My Favourite Games (20 of Them)

Originally written for RLLMUK’s ‘Top 100 Games of Our Times 2017″ thread I spent so bloody long on this it seemed a shame to waste it on one small corner of geeks on the internet when I could put it on here and drone on to my friends and family too.

So here it is,  My 20 Games of All Time! 

Read it.

 

20. Digidrive (Gameboy Advance)

Everyone will try and tell you that Tetris is the best puzzle game of all time but this is only because they haven’t played this. Digidrive can broadly be described as really fucking intense filing. You have to organise a bunch of shapes into sets before cashing them in and moving a curling puck along an infinite lane. It’s gloriously abstract and looks like the kind of thing that you’d see on the screen of a seventies science fiction show. It also feels a little bit like what I imagine being an air traffic controller is like. Constantly spinning plates, constantly stacking, constantly wanting your eyes to point in opposite directions so you can take it all in. Like all the best puzzlers it doesn’t dick about with a hundred modes, diluting the purity of the main score attack. When you lose the only thing left to do is to strap yourself back in and have another go. When I talk about my favourite games Digidrive is always the one that’s greeted by blank looks, but if you’re the type of person that takes an inordinate amount of pleasure looking at a perfectly alphabetised set of video games on a shelf then there’s a very good chance you’ll bloody love this. It’s the pleasure of sorting shit out (admittedly followed by the horror of it all falling to pieces, but nevermind that, eh?).

imag0613.jpg

I don’t think I need to explain what is going on here.

19. Overwatch (Playstation 4)

Winston, the cheerful, blue space gorilla who is definitely not inspired by Beast from X-Men, opens Overwatch with a stirring call to arms. I’ve played this game an awful bloody lot (it completely dominated my Summer of ’16, to the point that over games just felt like they were getting in the way) but I still occasionally feel the need to sit through his lovable half-Churchill-the-man and half-Churchill-the-dog schtick. It’s a perfect appetiser for the game ahead; offering the chance to shine but also promising the awesome, high-fiving potential of good teamwork. And it’s in the classic curriculum vitae attributes of working well in a group but also independently, that make Overwatch so incredibly addictive. It’s impossible to succeed alone, you have to work together. But when you send D.Va’s exploding mech into the middle of a bunch of foo’s you’ll feel like a total dude. Or perhaps you’ll proudly toot Bastion’s kazoo, transform into a tank, turn the game into your favour, and nod and smile like they do on the telly. Or maybe you’ll produce a gauntlet of Symettra’s turrets so deviously placed you’ll have no choice but to leap from the sofa, beat your chest and proudly declare that this is your house. Maybe you’ll get the Play of the Game, maybe you won’t, but at some point you will likely have felt like a total hero AND like a cog in a unstoppable machine. You’re in the God damn Overwatch, man, and sweet Jesus it feels good.

Overwatch

Oh well, that’s a simply delicious broth.

18. WipEout HD (Playstation 3)

Back in the days when a video game could find itself the epitome of cool by simply having its main character wear a baseball cap backwards, WipEout strutted it’s way on the scene like Arthur Fonzarelli. Back then, it was really a case of style over substance, but over the years it evened out until you’ve got what you’ve got here; stylish substance to go with that substantial style. HD is the absolute pinnacle of the face-melting, super-speed racing genre. The kind of game that makes you grind your teeth and the veins stick out on your temples. It’s so intense that to play is to have your fingernails permanently imbedded into the plastic of the pad. It’s so fast that there’s a danger of drying your eyes through fear of blinking. You can finish a tournament having given your stomach and bum cheeks a proper workout from all the involuntary crunches. And my God it looks and sounds completely gorgeous. My favourite genre of music is basically ‘WipEout’ and you’ve never seen anything this buttery smooth. Not even butter. And then there’s Zone Mode; where your ship gradually gets faster and faster until you crash and explode; which is like a feverish, cheese-fuled night terror but a somehow fucking awesomely fun one. WipEout is brash, unforgiving, difficult and endearingly out-of-date in it’s definition of what’s cool. It’s Super Hans, basically, and a whole world of brilliant.

WipEout

“Kids and grownups love it so, the happy world of…”

17. Splatoon 2 (Switch)

There’s this bit, a minute from the end of every match, where the music in Splatoon goes absolutely fucking mental. It’s the musical equivalent of overdosing a class of preschoolers on tangfastics, except somehow not horrible. And it’s a perfect summary of everything that makes Splatoon (and it’s sequel, which adds just enough to make it superior to the original) so much fun to play. There’s a structure to the chaos, a method to the madness. What may first appear to be a game about making a mess and flinging paint around (if you were being unkind, a shooter where you don’t really have to aim) soon reveals itself to be ridiculously deep with a whole bunch of genius tweaks that fix everything that’s wrong with the online shooter. And it’s a team sport that absolutely bloody perfect for loners like me. This is a game in which it is virtually impossible to be mean to, or to embarrass, your teammates; and for those of us that struggle with this kind of social interaction online, it’s an absolute godsend. One of the only ways you can communicate is to say ‘booyah!’ and I’m yet to met a someone that is able to deploy that phrase sarcastically. You get all the benefits of friendly camaraderie and a sense of belonging without having to, y’know, actually speak to anyone. Shut the door and close the windows, outside is dead to me now. I’ve got all I need right here.

IMG_20170929_161545

As this ad suggests, I am the CEO of one of the corporations in Splatoon. Consume.

16. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch)

“Mario Kart Eiiiiiiiiight!!!” cheerfully booms the title screen as you strap yourself in and prepare to swear constantly at a bunch of bastard cartoon characters. But despite being a series that always had the ability to turn the air bluer than it’s skies, Mario Kart has simply never been more thrilling, competitive and outrageously fun as it is here. Each race takes place on a knife edge; where mistakes are forgiven as quickly as they are punished, ensuring that you always feel like you have a chance whilst also allowing the cream to rise to the top. My absolute favourite game to play online, get yourself in a decent lobby full of cheerful chappies and the hours just fly by in a swirl of victory, defeat and disbelief at other players preference to race on Rainbow Road over Melody Motorway. Ah yes, the tracks, MY GOD THE TRACKS. Stunningly beautiful, fantastically designed and utterly devious. I could power-slide-into-leap over that baggage carousel in Sunshine Airport all day. How fucking cool does it feel to pick up the Master Sword in Hyrule Castle? I actually want sell the house and move to Toad Harbour. And the music is so completely fantastic I’m thinking of hiring a swing band to play the theme from Royal Raceway so that I can hear that triumphant trumpet live. That cry on the title screen doesn’t just tell you what the game is, it tells you how the game feels. And it feels Mario Kart greaaaaaaaaaat!

IMG_20170929_161328

Grumble Volcano over Mount Wario is easily the worst democratic decision of the past few years. EASILY.

15. Virtue’s Last Reward (Playstation Vita)

My poor, long-suffering wife has perfected the art of appearing vaguely interested when I prattle on incessantly about my latest obsession, but VLR is one of the few times she was genuinely riveted by what I had to say. A game in which the game bits are almost certainly the weakest parts, this is an impossibly brilliant visual novel with a narrative that’s difficult to talk about in any great detail without giving some of the game away. What I can say is that it tells a story that simply could not be delivered in any other medium and that to try and do so would make it demonstrably worse. The way that each player will come to it’s ridiculously long list of explosive revelations differently means that to play it is to feel like a member of an exciting, exclusive club. Where the members talk in hushed tones about the sheer genius of the thing. I wish I could explain to you how good this is but I just can’t so you’re simply going to have to go and play it immediately. You will thank me later.

IMAG0610

Some of my notes from when I was playing. The rest are scrawled across the wall and tattooed on by body.

14. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Playstation 2)

What I love so much about Metal Gear is how Kojimary it is. Hideo Kojima’s style is so weird and unique; deadly serious musings about nuclear weapons one minute, fourth wall breaking silliness and men who can shoot bees put of their mouths the next; that there’s no better word for it. To my mind, Snake Eater is the Kojimarist of the lot. Without the pressure of selling the newest Playstation (that perhaps caught Snake a little surprised in the vision cone for entries 2 and 4) MGS3 was able to fully embrace the mental and jibber-jabber away incessantly to any of us who were willing to listen. Yeah, it still doesn’t know when to stop talking and yeah it takes an absolute bloody age to get going , but once it does you’ve got a series of tightly designed, fantastically fun stealth sandboxes and a million-and-one ways in which to approach them. And these playgrounds are bookended with some truly memorable boss fights and moments of mad genius. I think the infamous and ridiculously tense battle with old mouldy sniper The End took me an entire Sunday afternoon the first time I did it. I absolutely love the bit towards the end when you’re about to be blown sky high and The Sorrow antagonises you through the cut scenes with a countdown to your death. The game is basically begging you to say “c’mon get on with it!” as main antagonist Volgin yabbers on, in what I hope was a bit of brilliant self-awareness from the developers. And what about the wink to the camera that is *literally* a wink to the camera? But perhaps the most Kojimary bit of them all is when it turns its ridiculous, Bond-inspired theme tune (lest we forget, featuring the line “some day you’ll feed on a tree frog”) into an unforgettable moment of drama. Snake Eater may only be the second best game to feature a really long climb up a ladder (number 3 on this list also has one; perhaps this is just something I’m into) but its really long climb up a ladder is undoubtedly the best. Mad as a box of frogs. A box of delicious, nutritious frogs.

IMAG0612

Snake? Snake?! SNAAAAAAAAKE! (no, I don’t currently have easy access to the game to take a screenshot in case you’re wondering)

13. Nex Machina (Playstation 4)

Y’know in Pulp Fiction when Uma Thurman gets a shot of adrenaline thumped right into her heart? That’s what it’s like to press the start button in Nex Machina. From the moment your little Daft Punk avatar careens across the screen on a Tron inspired motorcycle, leaping through the sky and into action, the game grabs you by the scruff of your neck and shoves your face right into the screen demanding that you pay attention and fucking enjoy yourself. It’s so obscenely intense I would genuinely recommend that it’s avoided by those with a family history of heart conditions. As it is, I tend to finish a level discovering that I’m so rigid with concentration that I’m no longer perched on the edge of the sofa but gripped, mid-air in a seating position, lungs bursting as I’ve been holding my breath for the entire duration. It’s a utter masterclass in design, with random elements jostling with regular enemy formations to keep you constantly on your toes. Each level contains so many secrets that in order to max a score you’ll be giving your brain as much of a workout as your fingers. Think on this; It’s a twin-stick shooter that’s so ludicrously difficult that despite briefly having a score in the top 100, there’s a boss that I suspect I’ll never see. *That’s* the level of love and attention that’s gone into this thing. It’s a game designed to still be played thirty, forty, fifty years into future; new players honing their skills and discovering new techniques.  And much like its forefather and inspiration Robotron, you wouldn’t bet against that happening.

IMG_20170929_162254

Cool, top 100! 69th?! Huh, huh. Sweet.

12. Super Meat Boy (Xbox 360)

Meat Boy may always be smiling, but it’s obvious within seconds of starting that he hates you and your stupid fucking fingers. This game is ridiculously hard. Outrageously tough. It features levels that surely must have been put together by a spike fetishist in a huff. It strikes me as the kind of thing that the naughty kids at Nintendo (who sit at the back of the class and throw screwed up bits of paper at Miyamoto) would make if they were allowed to stop making games about magic triangles and moustaches. It’s got that same lavish level of attention; that feeling that the placement of every single platform has been agonised over; that you only really find in Mario games. Its also got that same glorious level of tactility and control. The stickiness as you slide down the walls, the softness of the landing, the flap-flapping as he breaks into a run. Meat Boy was one of the first in a revival of rock hard platformers, but unlike others that seemed to reward a measured, thoughtful response, this rewards going hell-for-leather and making quick decisions on the fly. Its retro-inspired style has been used so many times now that it feels weirdly of its time, but although Meat Boy may not be as rare as he once was he is still exceptionally well done.

IMG_20170928_183458

I think this sums up what it’s like to play Meat Boy rather accurately

11. Resident Evil 4 (GameCube)

Every time I replay this (and I replay it *a lot*; I’ve literally bought it on five machines FFS) I’m amazed at how consistently not-shit it is. Over its twenty odd hours, it’s never anything but balls-out brilliant. Many of the games on this list have a piss on themselves somewhere, but Resident Evil 4 just…doesn’t. It’s hit after hit. It’s a game with none of the ‘oh, not this bit’ bits. And on top of that it’s all so fantastically weird. There’s a bit when you’re chased by a forty foot statue of a dwarf. There’s a system which involves taking you out of the game and calmly making sure your guns are arranged in your inventory correctly. There’s this bloke and he has the weirdest fucking accent. He sounds like a cockney farmer and he sells you things and you’ll fall completely in love with him. Whether by design or accident (although I suspect the latter) the naff, cheesy, cliche-ridden story goes beyond awful and comes back round again resulting in the finest 80s action movie ever written. But Resident Evil 4 is really all about the combat; that wonderful, nail-biting, back-against-the-wall, last-minute-save combat. I’ve heard this horrible rumour that the youth of today don’t really get on with it. That somehow the tank controls and the inability to move when firing makes it seem outdated. Imagine being one of those poor bastards. Imagine not liking Resident Evil 4. Unthinkable.

IMG_20170928_183446

I love this guy. “What are you planning to purchase from me?” Haha, classic.

10. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

A few years back I’d come to the stupid conclusion that rose-tinted spectacles and what was the thrill of the new would mean that Nintendo would never make a better 3D Mario for me than 64. Of course as history has repeatedly shown, it doesn’t get much more Nintendo than to completely knock it out of the park when you’ve been written off. And so, snuck out on that machine that no one bought, they went and bloody did a three dimensional sequel to Super Mario World. What 3D World made me realise is that nothing, NOTHING, in Mario can really compare with the “go over there” simplicity of a level with a start and a finish. Jumping through paintings and exploring shit is all very well and good but I play Mario to jump, to run, to backflip and to ‘woo-hoo-hoo’. To test my reflexes on the best obstacle courses the best designers have to offer. And it’s an absolute testament to those bad ass motherfuckers, that playing as anyone else in 3D World just feels a bit wonky. Everything about Mario just feels *right*. Is there anyone sweeter to control? I think I’ve probably got less of a grip over the movement of my own body than I do over Mario’s. I mean, damn. Dat jump arc. Dat ground pound. Dat inertia. Oooh yeah, dat sweet, sweet inertia; keep going, I’m nearly there. 3D World is pure, distilled Mario; fresh from the mushroom mines; and it’s completely bloody fantastic. Have a bloody go on it.

IMAG0620

Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo, 2013

9. WarioWare Inc (Gameboy Advance)

When he first burst onto the scene, I thought Wario was a bit of a naff character to be honest. An evil version of the hero is one of the oldest cliches in the book and it wasn’t until WarioWare that either I got it, or Nintendo figured out what they were doing with him. The premise is inevitably genius. Wario loves money and so has decided to setup a video game developer that specialises in games that are three seconds long and rip off Nintendo. What this means is that Wario’s wide-eyed, brash, thuggish brand of mania makes sense. Warioware is so quick, so relentless, so increasingly mad that it’s like shoving handful after handful of Haribo into your face. Some of the microgames ask nothing more than for you to press a single button. Some ask you to do literally nothing at all. But taken as a whole, flipping from one non sequitur to the next at increasing speed, it begins to feel like playing every video game all at once. In stripping the whole thing down to it’s barest parts it resembles the purest expression of the medium. Press this button. Right, now press this button. No, that wasn’t quick enough, do it again. Now do it faster. Faster. FASTER! And it’s all put together with this genuinely hilarious, anarchic sense of humour. There is something undeniably funny about rapidly pressing a button to sniff up a bubble of snot. Or to have the epic  journey of Super Metroid broken down into a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it boss battle. Wario isn’t an evil Mario. If Mario’s your best friend, Wario is your drug-addled mate Mad Dave. Probably not the kind of person you want to live with, but fuck me he’s a lot of fun to be around.

IMAG0597

All I want to do is *bang bang bang bang* and a *cliiiiiiiiick-ting* and take your money

 

8. Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)

Super Mario World’s map, with it’s cheerful, a-tweedle-dee-dee music, has an entire lobe of my brain dedicated to it. Give me a pen and paper and a piece of A3 and I’ll draw it for you. With my eyes closed. Every route, every area, every path, every secret is all up there; like the lyrics to a favourite song. But delve into the ingenious vision of that map and you have a game that never dips below a stupidly high bar of fantastic entertainment and pieces of design so ingenuous that surely a bolt of lighting striking a tree ‘pon a mountain top heralded their arrival. What about that bit when you have to find a way under the finishing line to find the secret exit? What about when you find out that the secret world has a secret world hidden in it? What about THE FUCKING CAPE, man? With so many fantastic touches that were a joy to discover, I’m almost hoping I develop some a memory disorder in my old age so I can go back again for the first time. But something makes me think that even if I forget my own name, Mario World will still be up there. Any one of us than ran home from school just to get a few minutes more on it before dinner will know what I’m talking about. Just think about it; I bet you can remember every jump, every pixel, every sound effect. “Reeer-ur-ur-ur-eere’ (Castle door opening). “KLOPP!” (jumping on a Chargin Chuck’s head). And here’s the biggy. “Der der der-der, der der-der der der. Ah der-der der der der a diddly-derrrrrrrrrrrrrr…DER! Baaaaaaaaooooooun-wown!” (Finishing a level). For us of a certain generation, Super Mario World is a cultural touchstone. A fucking moon landing. That it’s still utterly peerless as a platformer after all these years is little short of a miracle.

IMAG0603

Fuck sake Bowser, you utter bellend.

7. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (Nintendo DS)

One of my favourite things about Ouendan is how completely bloody lovely it is. This is a game about encouragement. About overcoming the insurmountable. About cheering someone on in their time of need, be that helping with their homework, gaining the romantic attention of a coworker or fighting off a fifty foot mouse. Being a member of a squad whose super power is to coax the ability dormant in others is so bloody life-affirming it makes me sigh contently whenever I think about it. Fortunately, the game that is attached to this beautiful thing is just as brilliantly conceived. I’m quite a fan of Dance Dance Revolution but have to admit that I still look bloody awful doing it; like an uncle staggering about ten drinks into a wedding. Ouendan makes me feel like I’m a fantastic dancer. I might only be dancing with my hands; swirling, skipping and pirouetting across the touchscreen with my stylus; but when it clicks you feel like a member of a perfectly synchronised crew. You’ll begin to instinctively connect with the circles and paths as they plot their way through the music because they all just feel so right. It’s choreographed perfectly (with the possible exception of the swirly-round-in-a-circle bits but we’ll try to forget about them). I often feel it’s (admittedly very charming) Japanese bonkersness overshadows what is a spectacular game. That we’re all so busy talking about how sad the level Over the Distance is (where you play as a ghost trying to communicate with the love he’s left behind) that we forget how great it is to play. But all these things are part of what is an amazing, lovable whole. I want to *be* an Ouendan. I need two more people, who’s with me?

IMAG0599

Guttenberg, Selleck, Danson

6. Portal (Xbox 360)

Portal is perfect. The only game I’ve ever played through in a single sitting, everything about it from the script to the puzzles to the journey, is put together with such laser precision, such flawlessness, that surely it was designed by a malevolent AI that wants to kill us all. GlaDos, the heartless, vindictive, cruel machine who serves as the narrator and taskmaster, has everyone that comes into contact with her fall victim to Stockholm Syndrome. I mean, she’s just brilliant isn’t she? A charming torturer, magnetic in her lack of humanity, and possibly the greatest villain in the entire medium. The script starts off gentle and teasing, before whizzing off into directions that you can’t possibly expect. And it’s not just in the words, but in the environment. Constantly hinting at what lies behind the curtain and beyond the walls of Aperture Science. But then the wit and story is just the cherry on the (possibly fictional) cake. As a kid, I always had a bit of an obsession with those ACME portable holes you used to see on Warner Bros cartoons and I like to believe they were the inspiration behind the Portal Gun. An utterly inspired mechanic that never loses its novelty. Portal is the type of game I’ll still be waxing lyrical about in some poor guys ear at a New Years Eve party when I’m sixty. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

IMAG0609

We keep a Weighted Companion Cube above the marital bed in case we want to get a third party involved.

5. Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past (Super Nintendo)

Back in the days before the internet, it was actually possible to consume a piece of media without having absolutely every single detail about it revealed to you beforehand. I had no idea about the Dark World until I got there and it was at that point I discovered that this deep, detailed, beautifully designed world was actually twice as deep, detailed and beautifully designed as I thought it was. Link to the Past’s brilliantly interlaced worlds have simply never been bettered (not least of all by Nintendo themselves) and it’s in this marvelous interlocking contraption that you find them at the absolute top of their game. Ingenious dungeons, tantalising secrets, moments of drama and comedy constantly jostling for attention. That bit when you first arrive in the Dark World and Link turns into a pink rabbit? I can still feel that incredible level of WTF in my stomach (well, maybe not WTF, I was about 12 at the time and hadn’t yet fully developed my potty mouth). Link to the Past is the perfect name for it because every time I play it I’m right back there. But it’s not nostalgia; it’s the unparalleled knack of capturing that excitement, that uncertainty, that everything-is-turned-up-to-11 feeling of being a kid again. The manual had a sealed section with some secrets in the back and I remember nerve-wrackingly pulling it apart to peak inside; treating the instructions like they were the Dead Sea Scrolls. It felt so fucking dramatic! And to look at the game now, it’s *still* completely gorgeous. How is that even remotely possible? Zelda games are always an event but Link to the Past is the motherfucking big bang. It’s the point for me when games went from being somewhat I just did to something I loved. It’s incredibly, impossibly special

IMAG0606

When I’m not playing video games, I like to chill out in reflective surfaces.

4. Frequency (Playsation 2)

I think it’s perfectly possible that if I had invested the hundreds upon hundreds of hours I spent playing Frequency more wisely, I would actually be able to play a musical instrument rather than spending my days trying to simulate the experience through plastic Fischer Price instruments and video games. Never mind, eh? As it is my fingers are burned to the bone with the muscle memory of a million trips to the horizon of that gloriously garish tunnel. To this day, I still tap out a rhythm on the shoulder buttons  to the music of other games when waiting for them to load. The three button, trigger happy, instrument switching system is just so elegantly designed that it turns a pad into percussion and the holder into a composer. It also features simply the best plotted difficulty curve I have ever come across; you’ll be declaring Roni Size impossible to finish one week and being annoyed at dropping a single beat the next. But you can’t talk about Frequency without talking about The Moment. The point where your fingers take over and conscious thought evaporates and you clear a button sequence without being entirely in control. It seeps into your head, it takes over your body and it makes you feel fucking fantastic. At the danger of sounding like that guy on your sofa at 4am after a night out who won’t fucking leave, Frequency is *in* me, man. I can feel the waves. I can *feel* it.

IMAG0623

I may have seen some of these artists perform live specifically because of this game. 

3. Bloodborne (Playstation 4)

I’ve never really got this fascination with watching other people play video games; I mean, games are meant to be played right? But suddenly, this double-hard bastard came along and I found myself devouring every single frame of footage I could clap my eyes on. I couldn’t stop myself.  It consumed me. It didn’t stop with videos either; guides, essays, hundreds of forum posts; my thirst was never sated for a new take on what the fuck was going on. Rather like the blood transfusion procedure for which it’s famous,  Yarnham can really get under your skin. But the true star here is the combat; simply the greatest battle system ever designed.  Where Dark Souls is all tippy-toey, sneaky-weaky round a corner, Bloodborne is all up-in-your-face and FUCKIN’ C’MON THEN!  The moment to moment duels with the regular baddies are good enough, but the run of  boss fights is truly *astonishing*.  I roared so loud after beating Father Gascoigne I nearly woke the children up.  I punched the air so hard after Rom I nearly smashed the light fitting. I don’t think I’ve ever truly calmed down after beating Ludwig. And the fight with Lady Maria is *so* good I should probably keep instinctual bodily reactions to myself. Bloodborne is more simply a video game to me; it’s an impossibly brilliant ‘thing’, a wonderful whole; and it makes me go all misty-eyed and look into the middle distance when I think about it. So good. So, so, SO  good.

Bloodborne

Gritty reboot of Downton Abbey comfirmed

2. Rock Band 3 (Playstation 3)

Part of the appeal of video games for me is the wish fulfilment. Who hasn’t idly dreamed of beating a plumber at tennis or of shooting a man? But none come near to the trick that Rock Band pulls in convincing you that yourself and three drunk mates, click-clacking and wailing as you systematically destroy the history of popular music, are actually talented, world beating musicians. It’s a game capable of producing moments of complete euphoria. One of my absolute favourite gaming moments was the time when myself on the drums and my mates on guitar and bass simultaneously joined in with the backing vocals whilst my wife belted out the chorus. There was no in-game benefit to this. There was no in-game suggestion that we should do it. But in that moment, when everything clicked and it felt *right*, we simply couldn’t stop ourselves. Rock Band is genuinely responsible for widening my music tastes. It gives me new found respect for whole genres I would have otherwise written off. It makes me listen to music in a different way. I’ll break a track down and concentrate on the parts, gaining a greater appreciation of the whole. Now when I daydream whilst listening to music, I no longer imagine I’m playing the song on stage, I imagine I’m *playing the song on Rock Band on stage*. It’s a game I can play whatever my mood and feel better once I’m finished. It’s a game that has me shutting the curtains and dancing round my living room. It’s a game about the joy of friendship and the beauty of creation. It’s a game that simply will never get old. I love it. I fucking love it.

FB_IMG_1506699108068

I get Rock Band birthday cakes because I am a responsible adult.

1. Rez Infinite (Playstation VR)

I once spent an evening explaining to my wife how I remained unconvinced and disinterested by virtual reality. Which was great, because it meant when Rez Infinite was announced I had to backtrack frantically so that I could spend stupid money to buy an hour long game that I’d completed thousands of times before. But Infinite is worth absolutely every single penny. I mean, Rez was pretty captivating before it was able to have a complete monopoly on absolutely everything that you see and hear, but now it’s like have an entire dance festival take place directly in your head. And it somehow manages to make one of the greatest games of all time better. I don’t know how many times I’ve played through Area 5 in the past fifteen years  (I reckon it must be knocking in the hundreds) and still, STILL, Infinite had me noticing a detail I’ve never registered before. The Running Man boss at the end of Area 4 was rather gripping when he was restricted to a two dimensional plane on the other side of the living room. Now he’s right bloody behind you. And then there’s Area X. I can help but admire the colossal balls it must have demanded to of decide to add an extra level to Rez; it’s like adding an extra track to a revered concept album. But miraculously, it’s actually more intense, thrilling and plain brilliant than what has gone before. A heart-achingly glorious journey past neon pyramids and through wire frame cities that makes you feel like you’re actually flying. This may sound completely ridiculous, but Area X is perhaps the closest I’ve had to a religious experience. God and the majesty of the universe is in here somewhere, between the thumping beats, pulsating visuals and the two televisions sets mounted inches from your retinas. Like anything this much fun, Rez in VR can’t possibly be good for you. Every trip through the soundscape must burst a few synapses and detach you a little further from the real world (the lyrics “mind killer” have never been more appropriate). But who gives a shit? Rez Infinite is a masterpiece. A singularly fantastic vision. And It’s The Greatest Game of All Time.

Rez

Yeah, it’s alright.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

I AM FIRE or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Fear the Bomb

The ‘nature versus nurture’ debate explores the argument that human behaviour is determined either by our biology or by our environment (yes, I did take GCSE Sociology, thanks for asking). Is personality a predetermined product of your genes or is it moulded and shaped by the events and experiences of life? Basically; are you born a prick?

My family tree boasts a rich and varied assortment of lunatics. My nan tried to change her name to “Seagull” until my Dad rightly suggested that it would ruin their lives. And on the other side, my Grandad swore blind that Wings were singing about an old lady called “Ma McIntyre”, despite the wealth of evidence clearly suggesting the contrary.

Away from cheery, harmless, old people insanity and onto more deep-seated mental health issues, I was once telling my mum that I have this odd tick in the back of my mind that tries to convince me to do something hilariously terrible. For example, whenever I finish a drink I have a powerful urge to fling the glass at the television. I mean, that would clearly be an incredibly stupid thing to do; but as the glass was spiralling though the air the look on my wife’s face would be pretty priceless, right? My mum replied that she experiences exactly the same thing. When she used to ride on the back of my Dad’s motorcycle, she had a similar urge to get off whilst it was hurtling down the A12. Haha! I imagine my dad would have been pretty embarrassed!!!

The fear that I might, inexplicably, do something totally ridiculous is clearly just another glorious facet of my stupid, bloody anxiety and you don’t have to be a gene genie to look and my immediate family and conclude that I was simply born this way. OR DO YOU?!

I recently went through the severe trauma of moving house and during this troubling time stumbled across one of my favourite books as a child, “I AM FIRE”. This book was a permanent bedtime fixture from about the ages of 4 to 8. It was the eighties, the world was on the brink of destruction. Either by World War III (memory is a bit hazy, but I distinctly remember Regan and Gorbachev having an actual televised wrestling match) or by something called AIDS, which sounds helpful but is actually quite the opposite.

A difficult time. Let’s have a look at the blurb to I AM FIRE, the book I repeatedly chose to have as my final thought before I drifted off to sleep

IMAG0522

“I AM FIRE is the story of the relationship between man and fire from the time of their earliest encounter. It is told from the point of view of fire, in it’s own words. The very imaginative illustrations and the simple text provide the child with an understanding of the nature of fire, its importance for man as a source of light, heat and energy, AND IT’S TERRIBLE POWERS OF DESTRUCTION”

Wowzers. Still, “very imaginative illustrations” sounds good. Let’s take a look at page 1.

IMAG0523

The fuck?

 

Strong opening; successfully managing to freaky as fuck and absolutely terrifying, whilst also summing up my entire physiological profile in a single sentence

 

imag0528.jpg

 

I can’t quite wrap my head around these illustrations. There’s something powerfully dark about them. Even Olympic one looks like shit is about to kick off. It’s like they’re images plucked from a cheese induced coma.

 

imag0529.jpg

Poor old Fire. Pining for the good old days when he could happily torment the fuck out of us.

 

imag0530.jpg

 

In that last panel why are those two guys giggling like that? Just what exactly is that meat?

 

 

Starting to get the impression that perhaps Keith Flint was brought up on the same book.

 

imag0533.jpg

I can’t be the only one picking up a rather creepy sexual undertone here. Look at the puppets stance FFS. “Needed me for heat”. Yeah, alright you dirty bastard.

 

IMAG0534

As if I weren’t feeling uncomfortable enough, this section ends with the guy literally looking straight at the reader, pointing at his doll and raising his eyebrows.

 

 

The car driving over a field. The rocket blasting through the birds. The glass-eyed look of the girl as she extinguishes the lamp. Everything just has this dark undercurrent of dread.

 

imag0537.jpg

imag0538.jpg

Is it just me or do these pages seem like a commentary on western imperialism? Might have gone a bit over my head when I was six

 

IMAG0540

Nice flammable, deadly, invisible gases. They could be anywhere. They could be EVERYWHERE.

 

IMAG0541

I mean, wow. Think we’ve got the full set here. Notes of drugs, sex, and the evil clowns. A truly horrible image that I sincerely apologise for inflicting on you.

 

 

Oh well, thankfully this book gives me the tools I need to combat this terrifying natural force. Water, air; got it..

IMAG0544

Fuck me, get in the car. It can’t be stopped

 

These words and images are what I routinely chose to experience just before I slept.

 

IMAG0547

Are we supposed to feel sympathy for fire here? It’s a wonder I’m able to resist the voices telling me to burn everything to the ground at all.

 

 

I think the guy in the dressing gown might be the wooden doll guy after a shave. I can’t be 100% sure. It might just be that I’m so traumatised that I see his fave everywhere I look.

 

Uneasy, enigmatic finish. Tones of Ashes to Ashes era Bowie. Roaring out of control fire. And I think we’re done.

Sweet dreams, son!

Short Story – “Fluke”

Luke couldn’t help but notice that his shoulder felt fine as he began the 45 storey decent.

It has often been said that our lives flash before our eyes just before we die.  Perhaps a failsafe to show us the places we’ve been, the relationships we’ve formed and the things we’ve experienced to try and kick start a last ditch attempt at survival. Dangling the carrot to make you go that little bit further.  Congratulations, you’ve earned yourself some great prizes.  Now, would you like to leave with what you’ve got or would you like to gamble?

Even as it started, Luke realised that this built in defence mechanism was pretty much useless in his situation.  Hurtling towards the concrete below with a bullet tearing apart the muscles in his shoulder, it would take a monumental amount of luck to keep him in the game.  The first few moments felt like they were in slow motion.  He felt as though he could see each and every tiny movement of the hundreds of shards of glass that surrounded him.  And then, in those shards, the reflections of all he had seen and experienced.

Inconsequential moments in his early childhood.  The weird shit that kids remember.  An advert for some toothpaste with a catchy jingle and an ominous set of teeth that used to freak him out.  That time he stuck a stone up his nose and frantically tried to remove it in a blind panic, terrified that his parents would be angry with him.  A toy telephone on wheels that he barely played with but was always there.  Figuring out how to climb out of his cot.  Being sick in the high street.  The rabbit on his name badge on the hook he hung his coat on at Primary School.  He always bloody hated that rabbit.  Chris had a lion, Paul had an elephant; even Marie had that big dog thing, and that was way cooler, and she was a girl.  Why was he stuck with a rabbit?  It looked a bit off too, like an extra from Watership Down.  The bit in Watership Down when the seagull said ‘piss off’.  That was just about the funniest thing a five year old could see.  It was so naughty.  The time his birthday card was shown on the television.  Winning a huge great Transformer in a raffle.  Winning nearly four pounds on one of those 2p machines at the arcades on the seafront.  His Dad’s face when Luke got the winner in the Grand National and landed him four hundred and something quid.  Everyone was so happy with him but he had no idea why.  He could feel the combination of confusion and pride.  He was always winning.

More of that was to come.

The glass began to reflect full scenes rather than static images as his own burgeoning memory began to take shape, and he advanced into his school years.  He noticed they all had that soft fuzziness, like you see on old American television shows, and that weird brown tint that he always noticed in the photos of him as a kid in the eighties.  But it was different to just watching, he was reliving.  Simultaneously running through the events himself, while casually observing them behind the scenes.  It was as if his older self had always been there, watching his every move.  Rolling his eyes and smirking at the silly things he was doing.

A Christmas.  Not too sure when.  At a guess he must be about seven or eight.  He’d been awake for hours, clock watching; willing the hands round until seven when his parents said he could get up.  Those times were magical.  Sat in the dark, day dreaming about the contents of the parcels under the tree.  He looked at the clock as the second hand slowly crept past the twelve, closed his eyes and counted to sixty.  He had always been competitive.  Not so much against others, but against himself.  Setting himself tiny games to pass the time and prove his superiority over the laws that govern all of us.  He opened his eyes just as the hand hit twelve.  Perfect.  He allowed himself a little celebration, waited for the hand to complete its circuit, closed his eyes and started counting again.

‘…fifty seven, fifty eight, fifty nine, sixty!’

Spot on.  This was too easy.  Part of his competitiveness compelled him to make the challenges harder, so he found his Walkman, stuck in a tape, pressed play and put the headphones on.  The hand rolled round once more and he closed his eyes and started counting while the music blared in his ears.  It was distracting.  The rhythm was all over the place.  He couldn’t remember the band or even the song which was a bit odd as he was pretty sure he had listened to that tape hundreds of times.  But he could remember the moment he opened his eyes just as the second hand reached the top and the feeling of disappointment washing over him.  He’d won again.  This game was rubbish.

Shoe shopping.  God he hated shoe shopping.  The pressure was unbearable.  Caught between the desire to find the right pair so that the kids at school wouldn’t take the piss and the glare of an increasingly stressed Father as shoe after shoe were taken off his feet after a disgruntled scrunch of his nose.  Mum being Mum, all supportive smiles and wistful sighs at the whims of a fussy, ungrateful kid.  As Luke looked back at himself he wished that his younger self would look up at his Mum more.  His memories of her had always been fuzzy and he wanted to take this unlikely opportunity to catch a further glance.  But it wasn’t happening.  He was too fascinated with the overpriced lumps of material round his feet.  Ungrateful little shit.  Look at her you prick.  Look at her.

Stood in front of the mirror in the hall while Aunt Jools fussed over him.  Brushing non-existent dirt off his shoulders.  She’s avoiding looking at him in the eye, either directly or through the mirror, but Luke can see it in her face.  The look of exhaustion.  She hasn’t been sleeping, and every moment she’s been awake has been taking something out of her.  The loss has affected them all in different ways.  Jools has been frantic, panicked; sporadically exploding into floods of tears.  Dad is in denial.  Carrying on as normal.  Perhaps drinking a little more.  Luke is just numb.  Like something has come along and scooped out all of his insides, leaving a vacuous space inside his chest.  Everybody is being so nice to him but he can’t forget, not even for a moment.  It’s always there, nagging away at the back of his head.  He’s only eleven and she’s gone.

He can see the wake now.  It’s in some pub.  Not particularly fancy or up Mum’s street.  He realised back then that this was going to be the kind of thing he’d best get used to.  Crappy sandwiches and bowls of crisps.  Wandering around a sea of half-cut, chain-smoking grown-ups he gradually makes his way to Dad who is sat in the corner with a couple of his friends with a huge cloud of smoke hanging over them.  He catches his eye and smiles weakly.  Dad motions him over, and once he makes his way to the table, he’s lifted and placed on his knee.

‘How you holding up?’

‘Fine.  Bored though.’

‘Do you want to go to the park?  It’s only round the corner and I could do with the fresh air.’

Luke nods silently, and his Dad quickly finishes his drink before clicking his fingers in the direction of Jools.

‘Just nipping out for a bit.  Taking Luke to the park.  You alright here for a few minutes?’

Jools manages to drag her sobbing face away from her hanky just long enough to give a nod and a weird contorted half smile, half grimace and then they’re outside and his Dad lights another cigarette.

‘Got to get out of there for a bit.  It’s a bit much isn’t it?’

‘Yeah.’

Luke quietly slips his hand into that of his Dad’s as they make their way towards the park.  His Dad squeezes it three times.  He always used to do that.  Like a way of letting him know he was there without having to go through the embarrassment of actually saying it.

‘It might not seem like it now Luke, but we’re very lucky, you and I.’

As he finished, Luke narrowly avoided stepping in some dog shit and noticed a screwed up bit of paper in the gutter.  Letting go of his Dad’s hand, he stooped down to pick it up.  It was a fiver.

His Dad laughs to himself and flicks his cigarette butt expertly into the storm drain, before pulling the packet back out of his inside pocket and lighting another. Even back then Luke was kind of aware that Mum’s passing was related to those thin, burning sticks that grown-ups liked.  He definitely knew she had something wrong with her breathing.  The last few months she was a cacophony of wheezes and coughs.  Funny thing is, he never actually saw her smoke.  With Dad it was almost a constant presence.  It made him happy.

‘Here you go Dad.  You can buy some more.’

‘Nah, you keep it.  Get yourself some sweets or a magazine.’

‘O.K.’

They arrived at the park and Dad lifted him onto the swing and slowly built up the momentum until he was flying.

And then he was falling.

He was back to the now.  The pace was building up now and his memories started to come thick and fast.  The months after Mum went were pretty tricky.  He saw glimpses of his Dad and some woman drunkenly climbing the stairs as he peeked round my bedroom door. He saw Dad crying in the kitchen when he didn’t think he was there.  They saw Auntie Jools less and less until all that was left was him and his Dad, spending night after night in near silence as Dad drank and smoked until it was time to go to bed.

And then one day it got better and he came home from school to find Thirteen.

Looking at himself, he must have just been a teenager.  He was in his high school uniform and had just waved goodbye to his friends to see Dad standing at the door with a tiny black ball of fluff curled up in his arms.  A huge great smile cracked across his Dad’s face, the kind he hadn’t seen for a long time.  It was infectious and Luke smiled back as he inquisitively made his way up the garden path.  This memory was the clearest yet, as he looked at the tiny pile of hair and noticed it had whiskers and ears.  It was a kitten.  A beautiful, tiny, black kitten.

‘What do you want to call it?’

A few days later.  Luke has the video camera set up in the hallway watching Thirteen play with three ping pong balls.  She’s acting like a lunatic.  Entertaining, scaring and confusing herself in equal measure.  Then, she batters all three at once and they fly off into Dad’s bedroom.  Luke picks up the cat and makes his way in to retrieve the balls only to find that they’ve all made their way into the tin cup of Dad’s practice golf lawn.  Luke runs back into the hallway grabs the camera and records the result of his kittens superior golfing skills.

‘What are the chances of that?!’

This gives him an idea.  Setting the camera back on the tripod at one end of the room, he places the tin cup on top of wardrobe before standing at the other end of the room with the ping pong balls.  He throws each one individually and watches as they arc perfectly through the air before each one lands delicately in the cup.

He holds the results up to the camera.

‘Too easy, eh?’

He gets the balls, moves the cup to the back of the wardrobe so only the very top is visible and stands with his back to it at the other end of the room.  He throws each one over his shoulder, listening out for the satisfying ‘clink’ as they each fall perfectly into the cup.

The day his Dad found the videotape.  His was fuming.  Over three hours of Luke throwing ping pong balls into the cup in increasingly complicated and impossible ways.  Bouncing them off walls, off his head, through tubes, along surfaces, adding spin, blindfolded, hands tied behind his back, in the bath, from a different room, down the stairs, over, under, through, around with each scene finishing with all three balls landing satisfyingly into the tiny goal.  As his Dad ranted and raged, he couldn’t understand what he’d done other than make an incredibly cool video.  A week later he found out.

They said it could have been from a lit cigarette, but they were unsure.  Luke’s Dad was adamant though.  It was Luke’s fault.  Whatever had caused their house to be burned to the ground was on his conscience.

This is what happens when you waste your luck.’

Luke saw himself tentatively make his way through the wreckage.  It was destroyed.  Everything was lost.  Most of it could be replaced. Dad always did well for money, even when he was on his own, but some things, pictures of Mum, were surely gone forever.

His heart sank.  Thirteen.  Where was she?  He frantically made his way round the house, making the squeaking noise with his lips that normally saw her running.  Nothing in the kitchen, nor the living room.  He’d been warned not to climb the stairs as there had been significant damage, but he had to check.  Gently testing each step before placing his full weight, he managed to make his way to the top.  It was up here, on the first floor, that he saw the fire could be no one else’s fault but his.  The scorch marks on the wall, even to his untrained eye, clearly originated from his bedroom, the one place that Dad never lit up.

With the guilt now coursing through his entire body, he continued to search for his cat.  He clicked his fingers desperately calling her name over and over.  A movement.  From the corner of his room, under his bed.  Something was definitely there.  He made his way as quickly as he could over to the source of the noise and look under the remnants of his mattress.

Two green eyes stared back at him.  And right next to her, was an immaculately preserved picture of his mother.

He never told his Dad through fear of having the picture taken from him.  The very least he could have done would be to have listened to his Dad’s advice and never taken his gift for granted again.  Never pushed his luck.  Never wasted it.  Perhaps if he did he wouldn’t have found himself now only fourteen floors and less than two seconds from having his head smashed against the pavement.

The memories were a blur now. Like a time lapse film from a nature documentary.  The sun rose and set thousands of times as relationships grew and broke down, money came and went and his face became weathered with age.  Judy featured surprisingly little, Thirteen was a constant. He saw his futile and increasingly dangerous attempts to recapture the thrill of the Ping Pong Cup Afternoon.  Fruit machines, horse races, casinos.  A hundred card games; the continuous flow of money, the look of disbelief on his opponents faces and the ever decreasing satisfaction of winning.  It seemed that everything after the fire had been in direct defiance of his Dad’s advice.  Always pushing his luck.  Always wasting it.

Finally, he’s 45 storeys up, in over his head, pushing his luck that little bit too far.  As clear as it was a less than a minute ago, he saw the anger, the chaos, the gun, the bullet and the window.

Then, they were gone, and all he could see was the grey, emotionless expanse of concrete inches from his face.  He heard the sound of a few pieces of glass hit the pavement before he heard an unearthly crunch.  Then he could see and hear nothing.

A beat; and he felt nothing.

Childlines – Things My Kids Have Said

Cosmic cat talker and radiology specialist Noel Edmunds has been safely contained within weekday afternoons for some time now. But there was a time when his box-bothering face was exposed to millions, weekly, on a Saturday night. It was a dark and terrible time when the act of “gunging”; simply pouring a green coloured liquid on someone’s head; was seen as cutting edge family entertainment. Fortunately we’ve all moved on from such puerile, bottom-of-the-barrel programming and now have All Round to Mrs Brown’s to look forward to. The joke is she’s really a man! It’s really quite brilliant.

Edmond’s show, Noel’s House Party, achieved the astonishing feat of being a less inviting  than the U.K Independence Party. I’ll be honest, sign me up for a bit of racism and lying buses if it means I don’t have to act surprised and delighted when Bros turn up at the door. But one segment, “Wait Till I Get You Home”, in which a child was interviewed separately to their parents, stumbled upon the irrefutable humour goldmine that is kids say some funny old shit (although in retrospect you do really have to question the parenting of someone who was willing to leave their child alone with a seventies DJ).

In light of this knowledge, my wife suggested that we have a book in which we can record any particular highlights said by our children’s inbetween their constant bi-polar requests and refusals to eat. This book not only provides us with a constant source of amusement, but also means we don’t actually have to remember these instances and can use our precious memory space for more important things like the names and concepts of segments in nineties light entertainment shows.

Regular readers may know that round here I refer to my children as Samus and Blanka. Not only does it afford them a shred of anonymity, but also neatly captures their personality for all you geeks out there. Samus, my six year old daughter, is bright, methodical and confident in her own distinct style and individuality. Blanka, my four year old son, cannonballs round the house like he’s got several thousands volts of electricity coursing through his veins. They both pretty well behaved and I almost never daydream about disappearing off on a boat somewhere.

IMAG0288

The good book.

In any case, here, for your reading pleasure, are some of the things they say. Hope you enjoy them. I’ve spent the last couple of hours trying to be funny writing the above. They just shit these things out on a regular basis. Sickening.

Samus: “You’re so soft.”
Mummy: “Oh, thank you!”
Samus: “Like a cow”
As I was leaving her room after putting her to bed, Samus held out her hand. “Wait a minute Dad! Here you go. It’s a bogey.”
Daddy: “What are you asking from Father Christmas?”
Samus: “A train”
Daddy: “And what is Blanka going to get?”
Samus: “A train”
Daddy: “And Mummy?”
Samus: “A train”
Daddy: “What are you going to do with these trains?”
Samus: “Cho cho them over the floor”
Daddy: “Am I getting a train too?”
Samus: “No”
Daddy: “What’s your name?”
Samus: “Samus”
Daddy: “And how old are you?”
Samus: “Two”
Daddy: “And where do you live?”
Samus: “The White House”
Daddy: “Get in the house young lady.”
Samus: “I’m not a young lady. I’m a honky.”
Samus: “I’m just going to take off my sock so you can see the fluff on my nipples.”
Samus: “I’m not Samus, I’m the bravest tramp”
Whilst Samus is playing guitar on a broom I say;
Daddy: “Oh, you’re rocking out. Can I join in?”
Samus: “Sure.  Grab a mop.”
Samus: “If you see a bird say ‘Alan'”
Blanka: “ALAN!!!”
Samus: “Dad. The bad news is I’ve done a poo. But the good news is I’ve done a wee.”
Samus has invented a game but has decided to call it “Show Us Your Balls”
Samus: “I need to do something Dad. Just calm your horses down.”
Samus reads out a Valentine’s card she has written to us:
Samus: “Baa Baa Black Sheep. I’ll kiss you until you cry. Love from Blanka”
Samus is playing with a phone…
Samus: “Hello?  Stephen? Yes, yes, yes. I hate you. Goodbye.”
Mummy: “That wasn’t very nice.”
Samus: “He’s just a cat.”
Samus puts a plunger on Blanka’s head and claimed he “Looks just like a Grandad should”
Samus has asked for “splatted egg”.  We think she means fried.
Samus: “I’ve got sweaty alan’s”
Dinner time.  Samus, completely deadpan, drops her fork and looks me straight in the eye.
Samus: “Dad.  Are you Batman?”
Samus swears blind there is a Pokemon called “Classic Jones”
Blanka keeps refering to Pikachu as “Peter Chu.”
Blanka: “Can I touch the moon?”
Daddy: “No it’s too far away.”
Blanka: “Oooooh. Just a little bit.”
Daddy: “It’s too far away!”
Blanka: “Oh well. Maybe next time.”
I’m giving Blanka a shoulder carry.
Daddy: “What are you doing up there mate?”
Blanka: “I’m eating your hair!”
Samus is flexing her arm muscles.
Samus: “Check out these fancy boys.”
Blanka has invented a superhero called “Pussy Hump”
Samus has made one called “Hard Boy”
Samus: “Dad, on Father’s Day you can do anything you like.  Except burn the house down.”
Mummy: “So, what was your favourite thing at the fair?”
Samus: “My favourite thing was when Mummy was quiet”
Samus: “Do you know we came from monkeys?”
Daddy: “That’s right. Where did you hear that?”
Samus: “Nowhere. I figured it out myself.”
Blanka: “I”M GETTING GOOEY LOUIE! I’M GETTING GOOEY LOUIE!”
Blanka was opening a Christmas present. It was Gooey Louie.
Blanka has invented a dance called “Swag Your Bum Off”.
Blanka has made some superheroes called “Beeham” and “Foot Punk.”
He has also invented a video game called “Fight Breakfast”
Daddy: “Did you have a nice day today?”
Blanka: “Yep.  I didn’t fall over OR poo myself!”
Daddy: “Can you pick a bedtime story please?”
Blanks: “Nope. Too busy.” *does forward roll*
Blanka is pretending to be a superhero called Change. He can change into anything. Change’s brother was evil, so Change punched him to death in their bedroom. This meant Change has to live at Grandma’s.  Their parents were called Rocky and Stoney. Their Dad wore ladies shoes.
Samus: “When I die, I want to be buried next to you.”
Blanka: “Let’s play Mario Swimming!”
Daddy: “O.k.  How do you play that?”
Blanks: “Right. Y’know. It’s for one, two, three, four, five players. You’re on Bowser’s team and I’m on Mario’s. And it’s for five players. Ready? GO!”
Mummy: “Do you know what a Catholic is?”
Samus: “It’s someone with a big hat and a curly moustache.”
Blanka: “I did a pump and some poo-poo came out and it was melted”
Blanka had diarrhoea.
Samus: “Mummy is cuddly.  Daddy is like a bit of wood with nails in it.”
I act offended.
Samus: “Nah, it’s fine. The nails are your eyes, nose and mouth.”
Blanka: “I’ve done a wee but I didn’t touch my willy so I don’t need to wash my hands”
Samus: “Blanka, do you want to play musical statues?”
Blanka: “I’m Batman.”
Samus: “Batman, do you want to play musical statues?”
Blanka: *in a gruff voice* “Yes.”

Why I’m Raunchy For A Launchy

I am an impatient man, of this there is no doubt. My poor, long-suffering wife essentially has a grace period of about three minutes from the established home time in which to walk through the door otherwise I have a massive sulk and prepare the dinner in a passive aggressive way. You know the type; cutting the veg heavy-handedly so the knife hits the chopping board at a slightly louder than usual volume. Yeah. That’ll teach her.

This complete inability to wait has meant that I have often found myself picking up a new games machine on Day 1, despite the overwhelming body of evidence that tells me it’s stupid to do so. It’s more expensive, there’s barely anything to play and the hardware is almost guaranteed to develop a fault at some point down the line given that the manufacturers make all the mistakes on the first wave like parents do with their oldest child. I’m a first born and look at the fucking state of me. I’m the Red Ring of Death made flesh.

So why bother? Well aside from my aforementioned, Verruca Salt-style, “I want it NOW” personality, Launch Day is the closest I get as an adult to recreating the feeling of a childhood Christmas. It’s just so darn exciting, I genuinely lose sleep. Wrapped up tight in my duvet with a stupid grin plastered across my face, I speculate on the number of cable ties that hold the power supply unit in place or the number of languages on the health and safety information or if the BBC is going to do a bit on it on the breakfast news.

You’re a pioneer. At the bleeding edge. In the moment it’s easy to forget that you’re probably the millionth person to press the power on button. You know that Elbow song about opening your curtains? It’s like that. A thrilling adventure. A beautiful day. It’s cool as FUCK. It’s also a pretty sad commentary about our relationship with possessions and the dark pleasure that comes from their acquisition, ingrained in us since birth thanks to a relentless, capitalist machine constantly blasting advertising into our faces since birth  BUT NEVER MIND ABOUT THAT IT’S LAUNCH DAY!

Below are a few words about my launch day experiences, but please don’t take them as a recommendation that you join in. See them more an attempt to justify why I continue to cheerfully smash panes of glass against my head, paying several hundred pounds each time for the pleasure to do so.

2000 – PlayStation 2

Games: SSX, Fantavison.

I became an adult in the year 2000; a fact that my Mum spent my childhood telling me held some significance, despite the fact I’ve never met anyone else who gives this information even the most cursory of eyebrow raises. I was taking a year out and saving up for university; which as you can gather from this entry and the one below went swimmingly.

I was lording it up at home on nine and a half grand a year which was enough to make me feel like I was an international playboy. So when the chance arose to put my name down for a fancy black box that you could store horizontally AND vertically, well, you just don’t get many chances to be a part of a cultural milestone as huge as that very often.

And this was a launch where you PROPERLY had to put your name down. I don’t entirely remember all the details, but you actually had to have all your information jotted down and sent off to Sony. They said it was because the machine was in such high demand which sounds like total chinny reckon looking back on it. I wonder if all these forms still exist in a filing cabinet somewhere or if they were stolen in a low-tech, dry run of the great PS3 hack.I remember being somewhat disappointed that this system meant that actually collecting the device was rather civil. I popped into my local Electronics Boutique at opening time and me and some other saddo calmly carried our transactions in peace. There was no throbbing horde desperately clawing at the plastic bags. Nor a queue of nerdy, homeless people folding away their sleeping bags after roughing it for a week to catch a glimpse of Smuggler’s Run. Just “here you are”, “thanks”. Rubbish.

Fortunately, SSX was really good and Fantavision was pretty nice. And it was a DVD player too, so I got to watch Fight Club alone without my mum tutting over the punchy bits. Although my highlight of those first few weeks was the Metal Gear Solid 2 trailer which I watched so many times that seventeen years later, I’m thinking of using a reenactment of it as the basis for my debut one man show at Edinburgh Festival.

IMAG0256

They gave us this weird little book a week before PS4 launch which I’ve kept like your Grandad does with all the old newspapers

2001 – Game Boy Advance

Games: Kuru Kuru Kururin, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity

Remember when the Game Boy Advance was landscape before the clam shell re-design? No, of course you don’t, because it was completely fucking awful. My overriding memory of this shitshow is steadily making my way round the perimeter of our garden in order to find the perfect lighting conditions necessary to make this fucking thing borderline playable. I can’t even be sure I ever figured out the exact science to what those conditions were. The screen wasn’t back-lit, so did this mean I had to have the sun in front of me or behind me? Perhaps I needed to play perched upon its surface or deep within its fiery belly.

Despite being the first handheld ever designed with the angler fish player in mind, I completely caned the thing until my hands withered away and resembled those bastards that fall from the ceiling in Zelda dungeons. Kuru Kuru Kururin got the majority of my attention and I think I managed to complete it the day after launch in the kind of move that infuriated by parents back then. Fortunately, this was my own money now so they were slightly less bothered that a game which could broadly be described as “moving a stick” was consigned to the shelf before the Earth had completed a full rotation upon its axis.

Having experienced a slightly disappointing launch day experience first time round, I thought I’d mix it up by going to a Debenhams concession. Not entirely sure what I was expecting to be different; a Black Friday style fight up the escalators perhaps. Turns out there’s even less people bothered about getting into a department store bang on opening and I was the only prick there. Having worked in retail myself, there’s a special look of contempt that you reserve for customers banging the door down and the girl from the perfume counter had this nailed on. There wasn’t even a Blue Cross Sale on FFS. I gave her my trademark thank you/apology hybrid, hastily made my way through the ‘fumes, completed my business and left. Why do I find this exciting again?

 

2002 – GameCube

Games: Luigi’s Mansion, Super Monkey Ball, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle

Midnight opening mother fuckers!

There’s something fantastically stupid about leaving a shop at ten to one in the morning so that you can play a video game at the earliest possible opportunity. Not only does the process destroy your body clock for the foreseeable future, but excitedly making your way through darkened streets clutching a hefty looking plastic bag with GAME plastered across the front of it, is one stop short of having a huge, flashing neon sign attached to your head that reads “THIS WAY FOR A-MUGGING”.

Being a man powered by paranoia, I splashed out on a taxi to avoid any potential beat-‘n-steals. I generally walk everywhere, regardless of the weather, so this was quite an extravagance. But then I was also a student at the time and money and value had a strange, ethereal nature; ensuring I had the latest Nintendo was more important than petty things like food and shelter. I’d be shivering alone under three, threadbare jumpers and surviving on a diet of out-of-date, tinned turnip chunks in brine for the next few weeks but OMFG IF YOU PRESS AND HOLD Z ON THE STARTUP IT MAKES A DIFFERENT NOISE!

Before making the trek into town, I popped round a friends flat to find them playing “Centurion”; a drinking game that involves downing a hundred shots of beer on the minute, for a hundred minutes. “What a ridiculous and immature pursuit” I thought to myself before settling down to a night of Monkey Tennis. My love for Super Monkey Ball has been well documented  round here and it would prove to be one of my favourite launch games of all time. Quite what was going on when I decided to spend £40 on Sonic Adventure 2 is anyone’s guess; particularly when you consider that our local off licence would provide 40 bottles of the delightful tipple “Chardolini” for a similar price. I’ve never been totally convinced by Sonic and this wouldn’t be the game to win me over; if I wanted to listen to some terrible raps whilst pushing right I’d have gone to a facist hip-hop festival. I’m sure they exist and can be found locally.

I didn’t really like Luigi’s Mansion either, truth be told. But I’ve got to keep that quiet or the other fanboys won’t let me back in the secret treehouse. Generally though, this launch was a goodie; thanks to the machine being actually bloody brilliant but also amazingly priced. It was £130 on day one which makes it sound like it was released a hundred years ago. Back then, thrice tuppence and half-a-ta’happenny could buy you a return ticket on the steam tram, a pound of Dr Mavricks’ tobacco flavoured chewin’ fudge and a copy of Def Jam: Fight for New York.

IMAG0257

This is me on my way to the ‘Cube launch. I am not going to a boyband audition.  I would never smile like this again.

 

2004 – Nintendo DS

Games: Polarium, Project Rub, WarioWare: Touched!

Midnight opening. Mother fuckers.

My view of forcing retail staff out of their beds in the dead of night so that they could earn all of £7 because you couldn’t wait a few fucking hours changed somewhat when I was on the other side of the counter. Yes, around this time I found myself having tiny pieces of my soul chipped away as I sold another copy of fucking Ghost Recon or some shit whilst proper, real games like Baten Kaitos sat unloved on the shelf. “Fucking cretins” I’d think to myself, slowly transforming Dylan Moran’s character in the equivalent version of Black Books (which I guess would probably be called “Purple GAMEs”).

It does put a bit of a dampener on the experience when you know you’ve got to be up at seven in the morning to sell hundred of the things, but I soldiered on and managed to get mine home and play  bit of WarioWare. It wasn’t nearly as good as the original though; a sentence I’d become only too familiar in using when talking about that series. And Project Rub was basically the same thing but with all the humour replaced with sex people, Lynn. I enjoyed Polarium too which reminded me very much of Jessica Fletcher, in that it was a really good little puzzler.

There was little here to suggest that the DS would go on to be one of my all-time favourite machines, nor that touching stuff would become such a large part of gaming for years to come. Generally, I prefer things with buttons, which always makes me feel like a curmudgeony old twat (what a beautiful image I’ve painted for you there), but the DS won me over with a truly outstanding catalogue of left-field oddities over its lifespan.

I even bought a handcrafted stylus with my name on it. I bloody love styluses. I find something so lovably quaint about them. Like a stereo with a built-in minidisc player.

 

2006 – Wii

Games: Bomberman ’93, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, Wii Play, Wii Sports

Check out Richie Rich over here. Not quite sure how I managed to afford this little lot when at the time I was still employed by the nation’s most bafflingly successful high street chain. Perhaps whatever black arts they’re using to avoid bankruptcy rubbed off on me. Perhaps I just nicked it all. I’m joking, obviously. I don’t have the constitution to carry out a heist like that. I once accidently pocketed one of the pencils from Argos and spent the next few weeks on the run to Mexico.

Mind you, I was absolutely fuming at my paymasters in the lead up to this launch so a little rewengay wouldn’t have gone amiss. A few days before the big event, a memo went round stating that any staff pre-orders would not be honoured in order to make more units available for the public. It’s an interesting and unorthodox way to inspire your team before a big weekend I’ll give them that. Fearing the kind of response that would have made the French Revolution look like Dance Dance Revolution they quickly backtracked on this and I found myself with this mental little white box on launch day, back when we all still found the name hilarious.

Being a total fucking trailblazer, I actually filmed myself setting everything up and playing it for the first time. Unboxing videos are all the rage these days so it’s a shame I’m so utterly devoid of charm otherwise I could have stuck it online and made my fortune. Quite where this tape is now is anyone’s guess, which is a shame, as I’d quite like to be able to relive my first fumbled forays into motion controlled gaming. I bet at the start I was  waggling it around a bit too hard and at a funny angle. Like your mum.

Zelda was excellent fo’ obvs’ and I’d keep an eye on Wii Sports if I were you; something tells me that game is going to be huge. Banana Blitz was genuinely awful; perhaps the most disappointing launch game I’ve ever bought. One of the minigames; Monkey Flying Saucer or some shit; was like having a chimp scream directly into your face for three minutes like that monster does to the old lady in the Aphex Twin video. Horrible stuff. Bomberman was notable as not only being the first digital game I ever bought but also being responsible for the first time I swore in front of my parents. I took my new toy round to show off and despite having hundreds of bombing hours under my belt, I was roundly beaten by my then 12 year old sister. If that doesn’t deserve a loud, involuntary “oh for fucks sake” I don’t know what does.

 

2013 – PlayStation 4

Games: Call of Duty: Ghosts, Contrast, Need for Speed: Rivals, Resogun

Jesus Fucking Christ, look at the state of those games. With the exception of Resogun; which was, is, and always will be completely amazing; it’s like I’ve been possessed by “Thatch” from down the pub. He’s one of those guys who’s such a lad he gets referred to by a variation on his last name. Goes to Yates, always seems to have a new T.V, stands weird; you know the type.

Code magnolia levels of blandness aside, this launch felt pretty darn exciting. Mostly because it had been bloody years since the 360 and PS3 had been released so everyone was completely losing their shit. In that moment, seeing a slightly better defined gruff cockney in a full camo gear barking at you to take out tangos like you were laying siege to Britvic HQ seemed well worth the cost of entry.

In retrospect it wasn’t of course. This was a truly terrible launch. Elsewhere people were gritting their teeth through Knack or waiting for EA to get Battlefield 4 up and running. Thousands stuck in endless lobbies like the fevered cheese dream of Hotel Inspector Alex Polizzi. These days, the machine is more or less essential. But it’s safe to say it had a rockier start than the career of Sylvester Stallone.

This was the first time I experienced the majesty of having a machine delivered by DPD. DPD have a very clever strategy when it comes to establishing themselves as the best courier company, and it revolves around not being totally fucking shite. Rather than vaguely throwing your package over the border of your postcode or leaving it with your nearest designated drug addict, they actually attempt to hand it to you. It’s a brilliant concept.

Of course, my PS4 was delivered at half past four; at the exact moment I had to go out and collect the children. I’d naturally taken the day off work, so in order to keep myself busy I spent the day tidying the house. It was spotless. Like I’d been on the meth. I was so bored and restless that day I genuinely emailed Tesco to tell them of some excellent customer service I had recently received. Just wanted someone to talk to.

IMAG0260

The Switch doesn’t quite fit on the TV unit which doesn’t quite fit in the gap in the wall. My life.

2017 – Nintendo Switch

Games: 1, 2 Switch, Bomberman R, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I’m writing this but a week after launch so the dust hasn’t quite settled yet. I had hoped to finish this post beforehand to ride the wave of launch fever, but missed it on account of spending every waking moment staring directly into the face of the dining room clock, willing my life away.

This was another hang-around-the-house-and-wait-for-a-van launch. I’d got myself the DPD app this time round which is brilliant as you can frustratingly watch your driver making drops in your local area seemingly at random. It was actually an excellent bit of foreshadowing for Zelda; a game which puts so many delightful surprises round every corner it’s impossible to make your way around the map in a logical manner. My driver was a young chap called Alex who could barely mask his disgust as I opened the door before he knocked. Although to be frank, DPD are so much better than the competition, I’d happily sign for the package by being kicked in the balls and spat in the face.

Zelda is excellent, although I am feeling weirdly guilty about not finding it to be quite as good as everyone else is. I don’t know, all I’m saying is that I just don’t think it’s mankind’s single greatest cultural achievement. And climbing in the rain is total bollocks. Bomberman is better than the internet would have you believe, where the main complaint seems to be that it costs the amount of money that games do. I’ve played 1, 2 Switch for the best part of an hour. I wasn’t going to get it but totally panicked at the last moment and stumbled into a shop spilling money over the counter. It seems fun, although I still can’t believe that someone has rubber stamped that name. Minigames where you look like you’re vigorously tossing someone off are one thing, but there really is no excuse for a clumsy, horribly punctuated name like that. You are reading JollyNiceSoup.

There’s loads of stories circulating at the moment that the left controller doesn’t work and that the dock scratches your screen and that the whole machine was somehow implicated in 9/11. These kind of horror stories are par for the course this early on in a machines lifespan. I’m not too worried at the moment. I’m more concerned about how I’m going to feed my family for the rest of the month.

 

OMFG – Singstar

I was once in a school production of the popular musical Grease. During my years treading the boards I was very much in the mould of Daniel Day Lewis, so the transformation from a clumsy, waif-like boff to streetwise American proto-hipster was within my range and my performance was well received. There was, however, a catch. One of the downsides to landing a part in a musical is that you are often required to sing. Now, some would say my inability to hold a note would rule me out of contention entirely, but my talent was so vast (or the pool so shallow) that my teachers had to come to a ingenious solution. They simply suggested that I mime the singing bits. Perfect. A musical without live performance and a performer told he’s so shit he should probably just shut up. Inspiring. Leave no child behind.

You would therefore expect that video game karaoke would be somewhat unpopular round our way; seeing as it combines my greatest passion with my biggest weakness. It’s like a kryptonite cape; familiar and iconic but also constantly draining me of my life force. But my Singstar story is a tale of triumph over adversity. I once glanced through a collection of my PlayStation trophies and I discovered that my rarest was for Singstar. The criteria? Simply playing it for bloody ages. What I might lack in talent, I more than make up in persistence. Just give me a chance Simon, I won’t let you down. I always give 110%.

This thousand hour love story; told across generations; peppered with conflict, friendship and even a wedding; begins with a simple click of the fingers. A strong, purposeful beat delivered elegantly by a well-manicured hand. As the fingers slam upon the palm with a raw rhythmic power, the hand balls delicately around the wrist with an effortless flourish. The image has the grace of ballet but the sound has intensity of cannon fire. Surely this is a call to arms. What comes next will be remembered for eons:

People always talk about
Hey oh hey oh hey oh
All the things they’re all about
Hey oh hey oh hey oh
Write it on a piece of paper
Got a feeling I’ll see you later

For the uninitiated, these are the words of poet and academic Jamelia, taken from her seminal early 00’s release “Superstar”. This deeply provocative and timeless piece was chosen as the main theme for the first version of Singstar released on the PS2 back in 2004. Aside from its complex, layered exploration of all the things we’re all about, Superstar was also a perfect introduction to the world of competitive singing. In a game where sound was objectively valued and given a score, Superstar was ideal given that it was so monotone it could probably be performed to reasonable standard by Droopy the Dog.

You see, Singstar doesn’t care if you sound good, it just cares that you sound right. As the glittering bars fill the screen it patronisingly assures you that you’ve nailed it. You definitely sound just like Minnie Ripton. But as anyone nearby possessing a pair of ears will attest to, playing the footage back can be a dispiriting experience. Even if you hit all the right notes in the right order, you still sound awful you bloody drunk.

Which is where stage presence, a.k.a showing off, comes in. The PlayStation 3 version introduced the ability to record a short snippet of your performance which you could then play back at the end. The genius of this addition was that it gave you the heads up that it was coming so that you could prepare. Here it comes. Your spotlight.

My PS3 is filled to the brim with powerfully embarrassing ten second clips of myself, my wife and my close friends stumbling around living rooms briefly convinced of our own talent. Sofa cushions quickly appropriated into Jamiroquoi style hats. Scissor Sisters impressions that somehow manage to be more camp than the originals. You have not known pain until you’ve witnessed two nerds from East Anglia perform “Beep” by Will .I.Am and The Pussycat Dolls. Think you’ve reached peak cringe? Think again bitches. Here we all are making gang signs during Fix Up Look Sharp.

Great performances called for synchronisation. Teamwork. I consider Singstar to be one of the finest co-op games of all time. In duet mode, the score between you was shared and you would naturally assist one another by in one continuous feedback loop. Find yourself totally out of key in the chorus whilst your partner is nailing it, and a quick shift of concentration from what you’re seeing to what you’re hearing could find your voice clicking into place. Their enthusiasm, their passion and their enjoyment helped motivate too. Often hitting the right notes was just a case of giving it some welly. And with your high scores signed off with a photo of the victorious pair, there was plenty of scope for further shenanigans. The games unusual scoring system, where each song is capped at 10 000 points regardless of its difficulty, meant that perfection always felt tantalisingly within reach. A friend an I once agonisingly hit 9 800 on Supergrass’ Richard III. A mere 200 somethings from a technically perfect Gaz Coombes. It truly was the hardest thing you’ll never know.

Of course it wasn’t all about attributing value to art. Scores were all well and good but sometimes it was fun to just try and attempt something that was nigh on impossible to sing. “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys has some truly next level harmony shit going on. “Rock Me Amadeus” required you to learn how to rap in German on the fly. “Take on Me” had that winning combination of lulling you into a false sense of security during the verses before detonating your lungs during the chorus. But The Bees’ “Chicken Payback” was Singstar on Legendary mode. Its insanely difficult, tongue-twisting tale of financial transactions within the animal kingdom required the kind of concentration normally only seen in the operating theatre, and remained a firm favourite long after the wider world had completely forgotten about its existence.

imag0223

There is a PS$ version but it’s bum. This is where it’s at, complete with main theme provided by Wolfmother (no, me neither)

Which is also the kind of thing that’s responsible for one of the games more obscure, accidental charms. Due to its relatively brief period of insane popularity, Singstar is a pretty good record of music during the mid to late 00’s. The mix of classics with what was popular at the time means that the likes of Bowie, Presley and The Rolling Stones rub shoulders with the “remember-thems?” of Orson, Ne-Yo and Daniel Bedingfield. Nostalgia in video games is generally restricted to the game itself. Unlike music, film or television, they very rarely reference outside of the medium. But Singstar has the early century coursing through its veins. It’s emotive of that time in a way that normally only music manages.

Of course, the relevance of this will largely depend on what you were doing at that time. Me? I’d just moved into a house with this lady I fancied and was enjoying those few blessed years of freedom before we lost our minds long enough to think it was a good idea to have children. Is it an exaggeration to say that our relationship was forged and cemented within Singstar? Possibly. But for a couple of years, this is what we did together. Our Friday nights were spent drinking every last remaining drop of liquid in the house whilst destroying the entire history of pop music. I’m not proud of it, but we got through several sets of neighbours during this time.

But those performances! The hours spent perfecting our Paula Abdul and MC Skat Cat or our Beyonce and The Other Two. The time we discovered that we could completely smash Parklife (this is probably largely down to the fact that I was born and raised in the same town as Blur and also that I’m married to Phil Daniels). I’m fairly certain the last time we saw my grandad before he died, we signed off our relationship by delighting him with a rendition of Dizzee Rascal’s “Bonkers”.

Or even that day we got married. Yes, I’m afraid to say, we’re one of those insufferable couples that did “a thing” at our wedding (although this was nearly ten years ago now so I consider us to be trailblazers in the world of lol random first dances). Run DMC’s “Tricky”, our go-to Singstar track, performed in full with the kind of enthusiasm you only get after a day of everyone doing everything you want and several thousand gallons of booze.  We’d managed to keep it secret until the performance so I’m sure we delighted and confused in equal measure. Although I do remember my best man cheerfully shouting in my ear afterwards that it was “the best thing I have ever seen, which was probably the most important and life-changing thing anyone had said to me all day.

This is going to sound naff as all fuck, but in many ways Singstar is more than a game to me. It’s a collection of memories. I dread to think of the money I spent on it over the years in its numerous guises or on its “only a pound per song” DLC, but without it I might never have learned how to rap a rhyme that’s right on time. I might never have learned that I have exactly the same vocal range as Thom Yorke (honestly, it’s spooky. My scores were consistently the worst amongst my friends except for Radiohead where I would always inexplicably smash it). I almost certainly would never have discovered that Dido’s “Thank You” is immeasurably improved with the introduction of a foul-mouthed hype man. So if it’s all the same to you Mr Smith and Mrs Heare, I won’t be miming during Greased Lightning thank-you-very-much. I’m going to sing. And to Singstar;

I want to thank you.
(Wanna mother fucking thank you)
For giving me the best day-ay of my life
(Of my mother fucking life)
And oh-oh, just to be with you
(Just to mother fucking be with you)
Is having the best day of my life.

 

 

 

The Games I Liked The The Most In 2016 Arranged In Numerical Order For Your Convenience With Words Justifying Their Position

Well, that was a load of old bollocks wasn’t it? We should have perhaps realised that the writing was on the wall when 2016 was confirmed as the year that The Last Guardian would finally be released; a sure a sign of the impeding apocalypse as any. But who would have guessed that by the time this complete urinal cake of a year finally gave way and disintegrated down the piss hole we’d be wistfully reminiscing about the day David Bowie died. Good times man, good times.

In a year so depressing I considered changing my moniker to MoroseBitterGruel, video games provided a welcome escape and below I present to you my top ten of the year. Hope you all enjoy it given that this time next year I will probably be etching my countdown into the salted earth of a radioactive wasteland. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a feeling that next year’s President Evil is going to be the most terrifying yet.

Stay strong everyone.

10. SUPERHYPERCUBE (PSVR)

If you would have told me back in the nineties when I was a teenager that come 2016 I would be experiencing real virtual reality in my living room I would have said “well, given the current rate of improvements in technology that sounds about right”.

Fortunately I’m a slightly less of a huffy, know-it-all prick these days, so the arrival of an headset that actually places you within a game would have made my eyes pop out of my head were it not for the fact they were wedged against my skull by several hundred pounds worth of plastic. SUPERHYPERCUBE provided exactly the kind of experience I was after; transporting me to a world of brilliant neon, sharp lines and neat organisation that I would happily live in were it not for the fact that some people would inexplicably miss me. Everything makes beautiful, simplistic sense here. A shape hangs inches from your head whilst a hole in a barrier behind slowly makes it’s way towards you. Your task is to twist the shape so that it fits through the gap before the wall crashes into your face. Succeed and the shape increases in size until you’re dealing with the kind of Lego monster you’d expect to see built by a kid called Connor who hasn’t learned how to share. The relentless pressure, the endless horizon, the distinct building blocks; It’s all a bit like being in the middle of a Daft Punk song.

Aside from the mind-bending awesomeness of being inside this electroscape, the VR actually provides you tangible benefit. Looking over the top or round the object to get a better perspective may sound gimmicky as all fuck, but it’s something feels like the future. This world has weight, depth and physicality. It almost feels like a funky, three dimensional Tetris. And all this despite the fact it’s basically a techno version of the early evening BBC programme Hole in the Wall. SUPERHYPERCUBE was sadly released at a ridiculous price and so struggled to find an audience, but it’s the kind of exciting, thoughtful experiment that deserves to be experienced. As the distressingly orange host of the aforementioned light entertainment show might say, “bring on the wall!”

screenshot_20161221-144412

“DVNO, FOUR CAPITAL LETTERS!”

9. Pocket Card Jockey (3DS)

Ugh, horsey people. They’re the worst aren’t they? With their hay, and their wind chimes and their oddly sexual boots. Trying to persuade you that horses are majestic beautiful animals when in reality they look like giant, mutant shrews. I went horse racing for the first time this year and left just as confused as I arrived. It’s a world that exists on the peripheral of my reality. Which is perhaps why the introduction of a card game to its structure actually resulted in something I could understand and enjoy.

Pocket Card Jockey places you in the jodhpurs of an up-and-coming rider and builds upon the idea of pushing your horse at the right moments and playing to its strengths, by mixing it with a game of good ol’ fashioned solitaire. Wait, come back! What might appear to be two pastimes only tenuously linked by gambling, actually fit remarkably well and result in a game of deep strategy. The RPG element that’s been thrown into the mix; where you can help your horse develop and grow by collecting cards on the track; means that in some cases it’s not a good idea to push your trusty steed to victory in every race. Add in the pasture where you can retire and breed your previous race winners in order to meld all their lovely, delicious genes and you start to realise that there’s an awful lot more going on here than first appears. There’s a captivating ebb and flow to each race; careful, quiet consideration as you try and move your horse into it’s best position sandwiched between quick-thinking rounds of cards. And, as is the case with a lot of Nintendo’s output, the localisation is absolutely brilliant with genuinely funny conversations between the player, stable owner and the procession of bizarre horse owners in between each cup. If all this doesn’t sound enough, then you also get name your horses. Yes, just like in real horse racing, you too can give an animal a name that sounds like it’s been lifted from the graffiti in a Victorian asylum.

Pocket Card Jockey is an idea so mental, that it would have probably been left on the whiteboard in an episode of The Apprentice, but it bloody works. I’m a changed man. I love horses. Best of all the animals.

imag0163

They’re my friends

 

8. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)

Let’s get the huge, exquisitely rendered, beautifully detailed elephant in the room out of the way first; Uncharted 4 is an astonishingly good-looking video game. It’s completely fucking ludicrous. Every nook has been lavished with care and attention, and the crannies; Jesus Christ, the crannies; you’ve ain’t ever seen crannies like these. There’s a bit early on where Nathan Drake has a bite to eat and it’s the greatest scene of animated chewing ever created. It’s only a minute long and must have taken someone weeks to get right. “How’s work going, honey?” “Stressful. Nearly finished that big rumination project. I’ve got the roll on the right hand side of the jaw right but I just can’t crack that fork-to-tounge moment.” “You’re too much of a perfectionist. It’s not the Sistine Chapel. You haven’t showered in days. I’m worried.” “You don’t understand! This is a pivotal moment! If I get this right, it could open some really big doors for us! Sure, it’s chewing now; but next it could be the sweat glistening on Sully’s moustache. They might even give me a crumbling platform. Imagine!” “I’m going to be staying at my Mother’s for a bit. Look after yourself.”

So yes, it is very pretty. As for the actual game bit; the shooting is perfectly good fun (if a bit of a step back from what the series has done before) and the platforming improved so it’s now less like following the one predefined route to the top and more like picking from three (yes, three!) slightly different routes to the top. Oh, the possibilities. But if this all sounds like a bit of a downer for one of my favourite games of the year, then at around the halfway point, A Thief’s End has one of the most extraordinarily lavish and spectacular single levels I can recall. Starting with a quiet walk through a market and culminating in the kind of ridiculously over-the-top car chase that previously only existed in the mind of a six-year old playing with Hot Wheels, I’m amazed that the amount of money that must have been pumped into this single half hour didn’t spark another global financial crisis. This level is Uncharted 4 in a nutshell; gaming’s Faberge egg; utterly pointless, fairly undignified and will probably break if you handle it too roughly, but you can’t help but be impressed by the artistry.

screenshot_20161218-100843

This is just a bit of stuff hidden down a hole in Uncharted. Look at the fucking state of it.

7. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii U)

Perhaps concerned that the title wasn’t quite incomprehensible enough, the ‘#’ is actually pronounced ‘sharp’ rather the word that you’ve already internally used twice. But this is just the tip of the iceberg in a game that so intensely Japanese it would have needed a whole, Michael Palin travelogue to cover everything.

Our heroes are members of Fortuna Entertainment; a talent agency whose books boast a detective show where the protagonist changes her personality whenever she sneezes and “Microwavin’ with Mamori”, a cooking show which consists of a teenage girl nuking a ready meal. Still with me?  Good, because these celebrities (or “Idols” to use the vernacular) spend their free time banishing demons that feed upon talent using weapons based on characters from the strategy game series Fire Emblem. These weapons are forged by a computer program of a pop star, under the watchful eye of ex-fashion model who spends her time shit-faced, sending inappropriately sexual text messages to her staff.

So far, so lol Japan. But what makes this the first JRPG I’ve actually seen through to the end in about ten years is an immensely satisfying combat system which builds gradually rather than throwing a thousand things at you all at once. Success in battles is achieved through “sessions”; a kind of combo system where one attack can result in over fifteen hits if you’ve got all the moves lined up correctly. Not only are these pleasing to put together, but also great fun to witness. You could start by back-flipping and firing an arrow over your shoulder, before a teammate roars in waving a spear and shouting “nice combination!” and then follow it up with a blast of magic punctuated by the caster smugly pointing directly down the camera. If this isn’t enough, why not have two of your characters perform a little health restoring J-Pop duet in the middle? Tokyo Mirage Sessions may not make the slightest bit of sense but it has a cheerful attitude and sunny disposition that’s just plain good to be around. Nice combination indeed.

imag0161

“Music Fes” is of course a traditional Japanese holiday celebrating tiny impractical red hats

6. DOOM (PS4)

I’m not entirely sure that someone would be able to make a less “me” game if they tried. I’ve got no particular affinity for the original games, it sounds like listening to the ambient noise of Download festival from a couple of miles away, it’s so violent I actually let out a few Mary Whitehouse style “well, I never”‘s and it does that annoying thing reboots do of giving it the same name as the original (see also number 5). I mean, the title gives you all the information you need to know; it’s not just Doom, it’s DOOM; all capitals because it never tidies its room and it hates its parents.

But despite doing just about everything it can except for surreptitiously feeding me mushrooms in order to put me off, DOOM completely won me over with its pace, ferocity and the sheer size of its balls until I was unironically doing the devil/rock hand gesture and sticking my tongue out for photos. It’s just so fucking fast. The key to success is to continuously move forwards; leaping from one grotesquely extravagant dismemberment to the next. The “Glory Kill” mechanic, which awards you for finishing off the beasts with a melee style finishing move, means that you have no choice but to get stuck in. It’s a bit like when you see a vet get shoulder deep inside the back end of a cow; there’s no messing, no hesitation you just put on your gloves and get right up there. One of the finishing move animations literally consists of ripping out a demon’s back passage. How can you not fall for a game where anal prolapse is a legitimate tactic? Whisper it, but the constant bombardment and relentless speed reminds me a little of Geometry Wars. There’s nowhere to hide. In the entire playtime of the campaign I didn’t peak out of cover once. Fancy that. In this day and age, a FPS where you don’t spend half your time hiding like a total fucking pussy.

And if all of this makes it sound like just dumb fun, then think again. Like Oliver Read stumbling around a chat show, there’s a fierce flash of intelligence behind its crazed, wide-open eyes. Enemies flank you, take the high ground and retreat. Encounters feel as much as a battle of wits as a battle of wills. And somewhere, a couple of hours in, it began to dawn on me that DOOM is in on the joke. Despite being presented in a po-faced fashion, it’s beautifully self-aware. It knows it’s over-the-top and completely fucking ridiculous. It finds itself funny and that feeling is infectious. Both resolutely old-school yet forward thinking, utterly revolting yet totally hilarious, thick as shit yet wickedly clever, this is easily my best surprise of the year. Pass me a bottle of Hobgoblin and stick on some metal, I’m totally on board now.

screenshot_20161222-111201

Nah, the sky is supposed to do that. I’m sure it’s fine.

5. Amplitude (PS4)

I like to keep this on the down low, but I’m really quite the fan of rhythm action games.  So when the opportunity arose to crowdfund Harmonix (creators of the Greatest Game of All Time, Rock Band 3) to make a sequel to Frequency (which happens to be the 2nd Greatest Game of All Time), I played it cool and immediately wrenched my monitor from my desk before launching it the general direction of my bank in the vague hope that the money would somehow transfer quicker. When the game finally arrived, I was a kidney down and had plunged my family into the kind of hopeless debt usually reserved for Batchelor of Arts graduates, but at least I had a nice poster.

Fortunately the game was pretty good in’all. Taking the tried and tested method for rhythm action genius perfected first time in Frequency and then wisely doing absolutely fuck all to it, this is a fine return to the hypnotic undulating lanes and phat improvised beats that I’ve probably spent more time playing with than I have my own penis. The completely in-house soundtrack has a handful of total stonkers (and a couple of absolute stinkers. I’m not sure anyone asked for the excruciating Dad-rap detailing the history of Insomniac Games; featuring the line “new intellectual properties, that’s one of our core philosophies” from the studio that brought us a million, billion near-identical Ratchet and Clank games) and will have you dancing across the pad like Fred Astaire when he’s showing off. The dark, apocalyptic finish of Decode Me, the reach-for-the-lasers break in Dalatecht, the funky finger fucking of Do Not Retreat; the quality tracks shine through and make a strong case for composing songs specifically for this type of thing.

Amplitude 2016 is another fine entry to this truly monumental series and will surely never fail to attract blank looks whenever I mention it to normal people. But then if we’ve learned anything this past twelve months it’s that normal people are total pricks.

Screenshot_20161222-103521.png

To me, this is what pornography looks like

4. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (PSVR) 

A moment of hushed silence please for what must be one of the finest game names in recent memory. It’s funny, it makes you think “woah, who’s that guy?!”, and is actual sound advice for playing the game. Keep Talking is a brilliant recreation of that bit in films where a sweaty man nervously waves a pair of wire cutters over a ticking bomb whilst a room of suits yell at him through an earpiece. One player dons the VR headset and can see the bomb, but the other players have the actual instructions on how to defuse it (printed off the internet and bound in a polythene pocket manual if you’ve got any sense. You can just read the instructions off the telly but if you’re doing that who the fuck are you, get away from me).

I admit it was with some trepidation that I first fired this up alongside my wife; memories of that fateful evening we attempted to play the PS2 co-op game Kuri Kuri Mix and very nearly ended up in a Kathlene Turner/Michael Douglas style War of the Roses situation still painfully fresh in my mind. But with a bag packed and my solicitor on speed dial we gave it a go, and do you know what, it was actually a bloody lovely way of discovering just how great we are at communicating with each other. The masterstroke is that the game revels in being a total bastard. Red wires and blue wires sit next to red AND blue wires, you have to clearly differentiate between buttons that read “your”, “you’re”, “you are” and “u r” whilst others say read nothing and others literally read “nothing” and you have to contend with complete bollocks symbols that force you to develop your own language. Both my wife and I now have a shared understanding of what a “fancy six” or a “half-hearted three” look like.

It’s a fantastic idea delivered with a mischeavious chuckle and our time with it didn’t result in a single argument. The secret to a successful marriage? Keep Talking.

screenshot_20161222-111235

“Experience is the best teacher” seems like pretty poor advice in a job where failure can remove your head

3. Rhythm Paradise Megamix (3DS)

A rhythm action game made by Nintendo; a sentence that makes me feel all peculiar. Like “do you want to order a curry” or “I’m popping out with the kids for a couple of hours”. This WarioWare-esque, beat-matching series has been hitting my buttons in time since the original on the the GBA, but had never quite reached the dizzying heights of that outstanding debut…*dramatic pause*…until now!

Cherry picking from the finest selection of rhythmic mini-games of the past ten years and then adding a bunch of it’s own for good measure, Megamix is an embarrassingly vast and relentlessly joyful exploration of what you can do with the simple mechanic of “press the button when I tell you to”. The smart thing here is that it never actually gets all that complicated and the difficulty comes from the myriad ways in which the game attempts to put you off. You might be a lumberjack bear quite happily chopping wood in the forest, only for a bunch of cats to do a bizarre Cossack-style, bendy hip dance in the background. Or you might be a golfer happily smashing hole-in-ones from balls rolled to you by a chimp (you heard), only for the music to shift gear, whales to start spouting water from their head holes and a baboon to begin furiously raising the roof with a grim look of determination on its face. When I think of all the grief I used to give my sisters for so much as breathing at the wrong time whilst I was trying to concentrate on a game, here I’m actively looking forward to the ways in which I’m distracted. And although the surrealism is frequently hilarious (a level where the world’s smugest chameleon plucks bugs from the air perched on an Elvis impersonators foot very nearly killed me), it’s also genuinely witty in the small cutscenes telling the story of Tibby and his fabulous blue afro on their quest to get back to heaven. I’m generally not one for catchphrases but I’ll admit to using his regular cry “Let’s we go, amigo” more than once in real life.

Frequently surprising, often touching and capable of causing smiles so broad they’ll make your face ache, this is one of the best games available on the 3DS and I will solemnly apply my family seal to that proclamation.

imag0162

These two are talking about pork rice bowls. Seriously.

2.Virginia (PS4)

An authority figure in my life once held me in a steely, troubled gaze and told me in no uncertain terms “don’t try acid”. I possess the kind of brain that makes the wine tasting bit in a restaurant seem like a trip through Dante’s nine circles of hell, so it’s probably just as well I took the advice to heart. But Virginia; a barely interactive, Twin Peaks inspired murder investigation; gives me a pretty good idea of what would have happened had I lost my mind and gone full Fear and Loathing.

An at times moving, terrifying and exhilarating journey through small town America, with an atmosphere quite unlike any other game I’ve played before, Virgina also boasts an incredible music score that melds beautifully with the narrative beat for beat. Without a single line of dialogue and gameplay that amounts to little more than pressing up, Virginia had me visibly shaken and frantically Googling synonyms for ‘brilliant’ so I could try and describe to my mates just how ‘corscurcant’ it was.

In retrospect, Virgina is an important and well-timed game too. Placing you in the shoes of a black woman in the white male dominated world of American law enforcement, it does a beautifully subtle job of conveying everyday discrimination. The sneering sideways glances, the suspicious body language, the dismissive eye rolls of the local sheriff, the guy that only leaves you alone in the bar when you flash a wedding ring; from my privileged position it all started to bring me to the Earth-shatteringly obvious conclusion that maybe, just maybe, life still isn’t fair and perhaps we should give people a bit of a break..?

That is, when I wasn’t trying to figure out why a buffalo kept popping up. Or the significance of the little red bird. Or what was in the ornate box. Or who to trust, or what day it was or why I felt like my brain was slowly dribbling out of my ear. Virginia is a unique, beautiful, unmissable trip that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in storytelling, video games or otherwise. It’s utterly essential. Just don’t ask me to try and explain what the fuck was going on

screenshot_20161222-111222

I know what you’re thinking; “not another ‘putting on your lipstick’ section”

1. Overwatch (PS4)

For me, there’s only ever really been one contender for the top spot this year. Overwatch grabbed me by the chops in the spring and resolutely refused to let me go all year. Keeping in mind that I have the attention span of a toddler that’s been hitting it hard on the Fruit Shoots, that’s quite the achievement.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this team based, online shooter captured my imagination so successfully, but what is certain is that I love it. I mean, I think I actually love it. Genuinely. When I think about it my tummy goes all funny and I sigh and look off into the middle distance. Perhaps it’s because I admire the almost unfathomable complexity. With 6-a-side and over twenty heroes to choose from, the skill to be able to balance the millions of possible combinations so no lineup ever feels unfair makes my brain ache. It’s like the world’s most intricate game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Everytime you find yourself butting against a brick wall, all it takes is a deep breath and a good stern look at the character select screen to find the right tool for the job.

Or maybe it’s because that screen is bursting at the seams with brilliantly designed characters. Symettra; the OCD architect who creates structures from thin air by bending the fabric of reality. Zenyatta; the peaceful robotic monk from an order deep in the Himalayas who believe that those with artificial intelligence possess a soul. Tracer; the lovable, time-travelling urchin from ol’ Laaaaaandaaaan town cheerfully zipping around the maps like Martine McCutcheon fitted with a flux capacitor. Bastion; a machine built for death who has left his purpose behind and now travels the world quietly discovering the beauty of nature and I’m terribly sorry, you’ll have to excuse me I appear to have something in my eye. Even the shitter ones have something about them; a spark of personality, a funny line, a victory pose; and it’s lovely that such a wide range of humanity is represented here. How many games have a fuller body shape character like Mei and don’t follow it up by making her bits visible from every direction? How many games let you play as a 60 year old Arabic woman? How many games feature a homosexual front and centre on the box?

Perhaps I love it because these characters are part of a compelling, epic story that never gets in the way. In game, it’s told though snippets of conversation or incidental, blink-you’ll-miss-’em details in the environment. Outside the game, it’s told through webcomics, Pixar quality short films and huge labyrinthine puzzles that take the combined brainpower of the entire community to pick apart. The story is there if you want it and completely avoidable if you don’t.

Perhaps it’s in the sparks of genius and the “why-hasn’t-anyone-done-this-before”‘s. The mobile turret. The healing sniper. The self-destructing tank. The characters are all essentially predefined load outs and there’s no upgrade path so a beginner has the same kit as someone that’s played for hundreds of hours. They’re all so easily identifiable that you instantly know what you can do and what you’re up against. The Play of the Game at the end of every match which shows all the participants a short video of the fanciest action and makes you feel like a total badass when it’s about you.

Perhaps it’s all these things. But it’s probably the fact that in actual play Overwatch never falls below a spectacular high bar of non-stop, balls-to-the-wall, face-melting, heart-in-mouth entertainment. It’s just plain outrageously fun to play. And in the year of fucking Brexit there’s something beautifully poetic about one of it’s biggest games being about a group of representatives from different nations working together to achieve common goals. It’s beautiful, funny, intense and I’ll be playing it for years. I simply must insist that you do the same. I love it. I love it.

screenshot_20161218-101048

This is Symettra. She is my spirit animal.

 

OMFG – Super Monkey Ball

In the first in what I hope to be an illustrious and widely celebrated series, OMFG (standing for ‘OneofMyFavouriteGames’) will be a collection of love letters to the very best gaming has to offer. It won’t just be a list of Nintendo and rhythm action titles, I promise.

As has been documented elsewhere on this here blog, I am far from a social butterfly. I’m more a grumpy moth, and anyone that has had the displeasure of being a guest in my house will have experienced the nagging sensation that I want them to clear off so I can get back to quietly sobbing myself to sleep. But for one brief moment back in the early 00’s, my tiny student digs was one of East Anglia’s premier nightspots. Revellers came from near and far (other rooms in the flat and just over the road) to sample the simple delight of flinging a monkey down a bowling alley. Not literally of course; one of my housemates was studying animal sciences and wouldn’t stand for any of that caper; but within the confines of a video game that only ever could be created by Sega at their sunny day, simplistic, batshit best. This was Super Monkey Ball and it was totally bananas.

Before I go off on one about the multi-player (heralded by the fantastically cheesy and confusing inclination of the voice sample ‘party games…?!’, as if the game was questioning your decision to find fun in flinging an ape down a ramp and send it soaring through the sky), I should perhaps spend some time taking about the solo experience.

It was alright.

I’m being flippant of course. But talking about the perfectly serviceable maze based challenges that made up the solo campaign strikes me like focusing on the quiet shared understanding when you catch a chimp’s gaze rather than how funny it is when they throw their shit at each other or wank themselves off. Perhaps it was a nobler pursuit; a more elegantly designed and thoughtful section of the game. Perhaps more satisfying too; I daresay an entire generation of gamers have the first time they cleared the level Expert 7 etched into their memory.

But it just plain wasn’t as fun as the other bit. In a game as infectiously colourful as this, the image of a solo player perched on the edge of their chair, face locked in grim determination just doesn’t seem like a good fit. No. For me, Monkey Ball was a bunch of mates drunkenly cheering, jeering and dropping c-bombs with wild abandon.

You see, Monkey Ball, and Monkey Bowling in particular, was such a big part of our social lives it was responsible for creating an entire dictionary of terminology. And most of these revolved around the concept of “Cunting Over”. At this juncture I feel the need to point out here that we were about as far removed from a bunch of roudy ladz and laydeez as you could possibly imagine. For starters we were spending our student days indoors perfecting our bowling spins rather than trying to have sex with each other. So Lord only knows how repeated use of the word cunt became such an integral part of this cheerful little game but it’s origins are now lost in a cloud of rizla papers and cheap wine.

Anyway, Cunting Over was essentially giving the next player the minor inconvenience of having to wait for the ball to roll down the alley before they could have their go. If your first ball resulted in one remaining pin then you were in prime cunting territory. Get your shot lined up perfectly and then set the monkey on his way with minimum power and his agonising crawl down the lane towards a spare was seen as the ultimate insult. Manage something a little bit more flashy; like adding a bit of spin or knocking down more than one pin and your cunting would be elevated to the status of “Mimi’s Golden Cunts”. Balls it up by not achieving the spare and you’d feel the dark terrible shame of contributing to “Gongon’s Cunting Blunders”. It was a beautiful example of adding your own pointless twist. Nothing more than a stylish flourish to make loses that little bit more humiliating.

imag0137

In my head, this delightful collection of family friendly apes basically represent the word “cunt”

At the danger of turning this into a post of in-jokes and you-had-to-be-there’s, Monkey Ball is also responsible for the most hilarious argument I have ever beared witness to. Myself and three others decided to have a quiet evening trying to land on the tiny, moving, big point platforms in Monkey Target (given the decidedly less offensive but equally satisfying term of “plinthing”). Suddenly another member of our group burst through the door. Now, it’s safe to say this chap was a bit of a loose cannon and it was clear he had been on the booze so the sight of his furious face was cause to drop the pad. Fag half hanging out of his mouth, pacing around the room like a scenery-chewing villain from a Guy Ritchie film, he proceeded to lay into us for having the gall to play a four player game with four players and not rushing out to fetch him first. “Oh well. This is very fucking cosy isn’t lads? Very cosy. Having a nice little game of Monkey Ball are you? HAVING A NICE FUCKING GAME OF MONKEY BALL?!” It’s rather difficult to take a hardman routine seriously when the subject is an abstract children’s game featuring a kawaii girl monkey with a bow in her hair. Safe to say we have drifted apart since.

This was all within our first year, and although many games came and went during our time together, Monkey Ball remained a constant. Occasionally we’d dabble in the glorious chaos of a Monkey Fight or the seemingly endless relaxation offered by a game of Monkey Golf, but really, it was all about bowling. The sequel smartly offered a twist on this winning formula by introducing the “crazy lanes”; a series of increasingly difficult challenges with warping, twisting alleys or pin protecting obstructions which made cunting over all the more difficult. I later read that Monkey Bowling was essentially “broken” and that strikes could easily be achieved by lining up in a certain way. I’m very pleased that none of us managed to stumble upon this One Weird Trick or the game would have effectively been ruined. Perhaps we would have done if we weren’t spending all our time trying to get into Mimi’s Golden Cunts.

You might think I’ve not spent a lot of this post explaining what makes Super Monkey Ball a good video game and you’d be completely right. But then sometimes what makes a game one of your favourites isn’t the quality of the game itself but how you remember it. It’s your tiny room rammed with new friends, passing the pad long into the night. It’s finding the perfect ice breaker, a game so gorgeous in simplicity that literally everyone wanted to play it. It’s someone pouring a pint of vodka and coke on your bed but you don’t care because your having too much fun, honest, it’s fine I’ve completely forgotten all about it. Like a song that reminds you of a special night, a game can be a reminder of the friendships that you forged that will hopefully last a lifetime.

And then it’s the simple joy of cunting those pricks over.

Anyone for a party game..?!

 

Retro Shitty Rampage Part 5

Yeah, I’m still doing this.

Despite the temptation to mug the project off completely (and it is a project, I’m bravely exploring the very boundaries of entertainment here), I have found myself inexorably drawn back to the shittest collection of 1’s and 0’s ever to grace a television screen. I’m not normally much of a completetist and I’m quite happy to abandon something the instant it stops being entertaining (which is why my family live in constant fear that I might not return home from work one day), but the possibilities for utter fuckwittery that remain within the confines of the controller are too much to resist. It’s like when I blow my nose; I can’t stop myself from having a little peek to see what fucking disaster has made it’s way through the system.

A lot has happened in the intervening months and it’s damning review of the quality of 2016 that the hilariously racist title screen of Shrew Mouse once seemed laughably out-of-place but now seems horrifically prophetic. But with over a hundred games to go and the apocalypse appearing ever more inevitable, it seems like I better get my skates on if I’m ever going to get this finished.

Hold your nose guys, I’m going back in.

197. Mouse Snare
Back in the good old days, when a candy could go about it’s business safely without fear of being crushed and Pokemon Go was simply a phrase used to shoo away a gentlemen baring a contagious rash, bored humans used to speed their passage to the grave by playing a game called Minesweeper.  Never one to pass up the opportunity to produce an inferior imitation, Mouse Snare sees you attempting to corner rodents rather than disarming explosives.  Not a very catchy title though; if only there were an established name for a device used to entrap mice.

5. Magic Jony 
Sharing it’s name with a brand of contraception you might find in a Weatherspoons toilet, things don’t get any less genital when you fire the game up and the titular character devours the enemy using a massive pink lipped flower. There’s no getting away from the fact that this weapon represents a huge, remorseless vagina, right? I’d like to phone a Freud.

imag0045

“Shit lads, Jony’s come up. Help me get him in.”

187 Ice Ocean
To my knowledge it’s never been fully explained why a race of erotic fish women would choose to swim about in their bras given that it must be bloody freezing down there, and it’s all the more confusing in this breakout clone as the player mermaid is completely topless despite being trapped under several foot of ice.  I daresay the lack of decent support would be all the more pronounced several leagues under the sea.  I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a little bit of realism.

108. Sky Invader
“Nah, you see it’s nothing like it because they’ve broken through the atmosphere, whole different ball game.  And there’s only one, it’s not a plural if you look.  Well yeah, there’s more than one enemy in the actual game, but the title is referring to the hero….An invader can be good too…Well I can’t think of an example off the top of my head, no.  Jesus, why do you do this?  Picking flaws in everything I do. No, no, it’s fine, I’m sorry I snapped.  Perhaps you’re right. It’s been a long day. Shall I pick us up something nice from Waitrose..?”

103 Gold Digger
Kirby, the pink blob whose ability to suck in the mindless souls around him brings to mind Donald Trump, makes an unexpected appearance here and someone in the Retro Game Controller offices triumphantly crosses another name off the ‘Ideas to Steal’ list.  The aim is to collect letters and I cleared the first level by spelling the word ‘LEMAIN’, so it’s nice to see that the French Better Together campaign has got a good head start for when they lose their minds and trust the general public with a potentially catastrophic referendum. Despite sharing a name with one of his popular hits, the game itself is significantly more Kan-Nay than Kan-Yay.

21. Toy Factory
I find something inherently depressing about the concept of toy factory. I picture a grizzled sixty-year old chain-smoking to pass the time on her 15 hour shift. She stands next to a conveyor belt in a windowless grey box whilst a procession of genitally ambiguous torsos await capitation by her minimum wage hand. Environment destroying packaging increases their value by several thousand percent, before ungrateful spawn toss them into landfill the instant the next advert break comes on the T.V. What I don’t think of is a pink elephant dropping clocks into buckets. But that’s the beauty of language, these things are always open to interpretation.

imag0056

Absolutely no idea.

172. Dejectile
Everyone loves Bomberman with a group of mates, which is obviously why this bloody thing has chosen to pay homage to the universally ignored single player, lest it be even the remotest bit entertaining.  In order to add it’s own unique twist it’s borderline impossible to control, with your character throwing a strop when you have the cheek to try and turn a corner.  On top of all this, there’s something about the title that makes me think of a faulty penis.

106. Panzer Fly Car
God only knows what’s going on with that title which reminds me of a series of increasingly frustrated guesses as an elderly relative takes to  the pencil and paper in Pictionary, this driving game is so bad it’s enough to make you raceist. The engine noises sound like the tinnitus-enducing THX advert from the cinemas played through the phone speakers of some twat sat the back of the bus.

imag0051

“Distinctive looking title screen Jed. I like it. You’ll go far this business”

28. Move Box
“Let’s hear it for New York!” sang wonky hat queen Alica Keyes, presumably thinking that the city has been lacking some recognition despite being celebrated in practically every bit of media since forever. Fortunately, the Retro Game Controller is never one to miss a shout-out and uses the Big Apple as it’s backdrop for a reimagining of the fox, chicken, grain, river-crossing puzzle favoured by dickhead, riddle fans the world over. You’re probably thinking there’s not enough content for an entire game in a puzzle that can be solved in three minutes and you’d be absolutely correct.

169. Cookies Labyrinth
So what you’re saying is that we’ve got a maze full of small, edible circles? Nope, pretty sure that hasn’t been done before.  At risk of reigniting the incredibly wacky and tedious debate that we’ve all been through a billion times on what qualifies as a biscuit, the centre of the labyrinth is a gigantic pink wafer.

165. Bug Catcher
Catching bugs can either be a a good thing (“Look at this ladybird! On the gladiola!” ) or a bad thing (“Look at this gravy turd! I’ve got the ebola!”) which would explain why after ten minutes play I still wasn’t entirely sure if the aim of this game was to collect the insects or to avoid them. Mechanically similar to Fruit Pig (from Retro Shitty Rampage Part 3; you remember, of course you do), the key visual difference is that rather than controlling a smartly-dressed pig, your character is an armless Mini Boglin tottering around on its hind legs. It’s twice as disturbing in reality than it sounds.

imag0055

Mesut Ozil is a distinctive looking fellow, isn’t he?

117.Burrow Explorer
As suggested by the name, video games are a primarily visual medium which makes the decision here to plunge your character in total darkness an interesting one. Perhaps tells you more about my filthy brain but the phrase “Burrow Explorer” is a pretty repulsive image isn’t it? Like Sid James has somehow landed a job as a gynaecologist.

199. Mowing
Aside from their primary function as a way of ruining your neighbour’s Sunday morning lie-in, lawnmowers can also provide a valuable grass cutting service. Here you take control of one of these unnecessarily noisy bastards as it clears a lawn and uncovers all the valuable, beautifully cut gems that have carelessly fallen out of the gardeners pocket. We’ve all been there. Your main foe is a small dog, although given the size of the monsterous turbo-powered tank you’re driving I wouldn’t fancy the chances of a chihuahua against a Flymo Floral Fucker 4000.

193. Magic Egg 
I must apologise for the uncharacteristic lack of nuanced critique on the game mechanics, but the music for Magic Egg was so catastrophically awful that I quickly had to stop playing as my brain was starting to shut down my major organs in a last ditch attempt to save itself.  But as dreadful as the soundtrack is, at least it’s not quite as bad as the the title which sounds like something you’d stick up your bum to liven up a naughty cuddle.

107. Risker
We’ve not had a unashamedly blatant Nintendo game rip-off for at least twenty minutes so it’s good to see Risker; which is literally the NES game Excitebike but in a car; make an appearance. Fantastically, absolutely everything except the appearance of the vehicle is exactly the same. So you can do wheelies, shift your balance and your car does some weird ‘catch your breath’ animation should you crash. Not entirely sure what has gone on between Nintendo and whoever-the-fuck made this thing; perhaps Miyamoto bullied him at school or ran off with his banjo.

imag0046

I’m guessing Risker refers to the potential for legal action.

Wor and Peese

Writing a book is bloody difficult. Wander into a library and the sheer volume of them might suggest it’s as easy as sitting in front of a keyboard and flapping your fingers about for a bit; a theory that carries some weight if you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to read a Dan Brown novel; but managing to hold your interest and confidence in an idea for hundreds of hours is really quite a challenge. I’m not even at the end of one paragraph of this yet and I’ve already gone on Twitter twice, stopped for a nice stretch and looked into the fridge for no real reason.

So imagine my surprise when I came home from work last week to discover my nearly six year old daughter had written, illustrated and bound an entire novel within the space of a few hours. I present this powerfully evocative examination of the human condition for your enjoyment below, completely unedited.

I do feel the need to point out that despite my customary pissy tone, I’m very proud of what she has managed to achieve here considering she has only just finished reception. It’s more coherent than some of the stuff I see from grown-ups and she’s at least attempting punctuation. Also, I think the publishing process may have put the pages out of sequence which accounts for the unusual numbering of the chapters.

All that considered, it is also pretty fucking funny. So get yourself an Ovaltine, set your jaws to drop and strap yourself in for some hardcore jackanory.

This, Dear Reader, is “Rig Roby Rig Roll”

DSC_0071

If you’re expecting this title to be fully explained, I’m afraid you’re going to leave disappointed

 

Rig and Rob wer a bruver and sister thay wer number 1 meen number 2 didnx go xo school number 3 laysay wen it was Rob’s birthday rig sed wen is it my birthday 6 day’s sed Mum but that’s ages sad rig i wont it now sed Rig now now now

They always say that you should open with a strong first sentence and she’s totally nailed it. They do sound like a challenging pair. Coincidentally, my daughter’s birthday is exactly six days after her brothers. Funny that.

 

Wen it was Rig’s birthday she laughed at Rob. Rob told Mum he shouted mum mum mum. Yes sed Mum what sed Mum what happened sed mum Rig laughed at me Ok sed Mum

Clearly drawing on her own bitter experience of a thoughtless, uncaring mother. The lack of discipline handed out for the heinous crime of laughing at you on your birthday surely explains why these children are so meen and laysay.

 

On Monday it was Dad’s berthday. He got a videogaem. thank you I love it.

DSC_0037

My wife hands me a gift over our ceremonial safe whilst I wear my customary top hat. A family tradition.

The birthday is a reoccurring motif. A day of celebration but also a milestone on the unstoppable march to the grave. I like what she’s saying here.

 

Chapper 3 I mis mum wers mum sed Rob evrthin went blak mum mum mum MUM evryone cried mum.

Bit dark.

 

Chapderder 2 Berthday fiet everyone was faeitoin with berthday evnn Mum

Here we see the first signs of her rejecting traditional narrative structure by returning to chapderder 2 after leaping to chapper 3. Are chappers and chapderders even on the same timeline? It’s like freeform jazz prose. Love it.

 

Chapper 5 the tv Mum the tv’s broakn sed Brook ther cat not agen sed Mum

Yeah, they’ve got a talking cat that repeatedly breaks the television. What, doesn’t that fit into your preconceived notions of where this story is going? Open your mind, squares.

 

Chapper 4 Hears Mum mum was sat on the couch ther you RA MUM

Emphasis is her own. I like to think this is her own version of the bit in The Shining when Jack sticks his head through the bathroom door.

 

the next day saly and Rig went to scoll Rob went to nersry thay love it Rob made cakes wen Rob got home he playd a gaem

DSC_0042

MASTERCHEF

After all those birthdays, that time when everything went black and the whole cat chat saga, no wonder they yearn for the structure that school or nursery can provide.

 

Chapder 8 plarnt’s Mum groad plarnt’s lots of them she love’s plarnt’s and cakes she loves trees too

“Right”, the reader thinks, “this chapter is about the mother’s love of gardening. Woah where did that cake come from? Then BANG back to gardening. This shit could go anywhere!”

 

Chapder 6 Saly Saly is not Rob’s frend bcos she is 10 Rob is 3 and Rig’s 7 it was niet tiem stars lit the scei

Blimey. A rather beautiful non sequitur after a challenging discussion of pre-teen social structure. Powerful stuff.

 

Chapder 7 mr tedy Rob has toi’s lots of them he had a tedy and robot and a rockit and crayons and a scuishy strobry

You kids with your YouTube stars and your overripe fruit. I can’t keep up with what’s popular these days.

 

Chapder 10 the zoo Rob and Rig got a treet thaay got to go to the zoo yae sed Rob I love the zoo let’s go now

I admire the dash of autobiographical realism she has injected into the characters of Rig and Rob. My children also seem to believe I have control over the speed at which time passes so it’s good to see art imitating life.

 

Chapder P meeny’s meen is not nies liek Saly and Rig thay ar meen meen meen thay ar not nies or fun not funy thay ar meen meen meen

I do think that perhaps Meeny’s parents should have given the name a bit more thought. Self-fulfilling prophecy and all that.

 

Chapder 11 the vegees vevery one needs vegees you need veg liek this this this this and this and this this and this

DSC_0048

And don’t you forget it, alright?

This reminds me of the bits in American Psycho when Patrick talks in length about Huey Lewis and The News. Although the importance of a well-balanced diet can not be understated, I think where this fits in with the story of Rig Roby Rig Roll is up for debate.

 

Chapder 12 Spaes 1 day Rob went in a rockit one day Dad wood be with him

Has Rob literally gone on a trip to space? Or is he dead?  The second interpretation certainly gives the Dad line a menacing air.

 

Chapder 13 Bob and Bily Bob Bily Bob love’s this Bily loves this.

We’re approaching the conclusion and she’s still introducing whole new waves of characters showing a real level of respect for the reader. It’s like The Wire.

 

Chapder 14 Cake Rig love’s cake Rob love’s cake ginger loves this Scrap loves you

And again. Who are Ginger and Scrap? And is she addressing the reader directly there? Is the author Scrap? Didn’t Mum like cake? HOLD THE PHONE! Are Mum, Scrap and the author one and the same?!?!

 

Chapder 16 Dad Dad is magik he is brilyntly slow

DSC_0052

I do look a bit I’ve just lost my carer

Imagine returning from a hard day at the office to find that your beautiful child has written this magnificent novel; with a whole chapter dedicated to you; then just at the point when you think your heart might burst from your chest with pride she hits you with the most  insulting compliment ever committed to print. “Brilliantly slow”; at least I’ve got the wording for my gravestone sorted.

 

Chapder 15 cat’s smal big we love cats that ar cyoot

I’m kind of distracted now if I’m honest. Slow how?

 

Chapder 17 buy we sad bie buy buy buy buy

Yeah bye, you cheeky sod.

DSC_0054